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Coronavirus In The St. Louis Region: March 30-April 5, 2020

CareSTL Health's COVID-19 testing site in north St. Louis will reopen on April 27.
Nat Thomas | St. Louis Public Radio
Retail businesses have had to change how they operate because of restrictions from the coronavirus pandemic. The longer it lasts, the more likely these changes will be permanent.

This is archived content from our live blog following the coronavirus in the St. Louis region. View current updates here.

9:45 p.m. Sunday, April 5

The Ferguson-Florissant School District won’t deliver food this week after two bus drivers died over the weekend.

Superintendent Joseph Davis said the district is working on safer ways to get meals to students after learning of the two deaths. One driver tested positive for the coronavirus, and the other had an unrelated illness but experienced symptoms of the virus before dying. Both drivers, who worked at Cross Keys Middle School and McCluer North High School, helped distribute food to students prior to spring break. 

Davis said another McCluer North staff member also tested positive for the virus on Sunday. He did not name the employees, who he said have not worked for more than 14 days.

Davis informed staff and students of the decision in an email Sunday evening. 

“These are incredibly difficult times, especially as we are more isolated from one another,” he said. “Even though we are apart physically, I know that together we will get through this crisis.”

— Corinne Ruff

4:50 p.m. Sunday, April 5

In the St. Louis region, 468 people are currently hospitalized, including those who have tested positive for COVID-19 and those who are awaiting test results. Of those people, 164 are in the intensive care unit, and 139 are using ventilators.

Dr. Alex Garza is the incident commander of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force. During a press conference Sunday, he said hospitals in the area are preparing for the pandemic to peak in about two or three weeks. Garza said hospitals could face a surge of 1,300 to 3,000 patients seeking medical treatment for COVID-19, depending on community spread.

“If we prevent spread, then we prevent infections. If we prevent infections, then we prevent patients from coming into our health care facilities. If we can limit that number, we know that our ICUs won’t become overwhelmed, and we won’t have to be faced with that decision on whether we have enough ventilators or not,” he said.

Garza said the capacity of hospital beds among BJC HealthCare, Mercy and SSM Health is about 2,300, with surge capacity increasing that number by about 40% without field hospitals. That doesn’t include capacity at St. Luke’s Hospital, which also is part of the task force.

Conversations are ongoing with the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency and the Missouri National Guard, he said, about whether additional space will be needed.

Essential workers in Illinois will get more child care help. Gov. J. B. Pritzker announced the state will cover most of the cost of child care for the children of grocery store clerks, nurses, doctors, government workers and others considered essential workers.

Pritzker said the aid, which will cover child care starting on April 1, is 30% more than the state would normally pay to account for the higher cost of small-group child care.

Qualified workers can apply on the state’s website.

“During this crisis, children who can stay home should stay home. That means really at home, not on play dates or hanging out with friends," Pritzker said in a press conference. "As hard as this may be, we need our youngest Illinoisans to follow this guidance just like everyone else.”

The St. Louis Evening Whirl will stop spinning temporarily. The newspaper, which has been in circulation for more than 80 years, said it has delivered its last print publication for the foreseeable future. A spokesman for the crime-focused paper said it was no longer safe to expose paper delivery workers to “heightened health risks.” 

Evening Whirl publisher Anthony Sanders said in a statement that the paper will return after the pandemic flattens out. “When we are through this, when the stay-at-home orders are lifted and it is safe to once more do something as normal as buying a newspaper, the Evening Whirl will once again emerge as well,” he said. 

— Corinne Ruff

12:35 p.m. Sunday, April 5

Franklin County is reporting its first deaths related to COVID-19. In Villa Ridge, an 86-year-old man died, and in Washington an 85-year-old man died. There are currently 32 cases of the virus in the county.

A child under 10 in St. Clair County has tested positive for the coronavirus. He’s the first child in the county to test positive, health officials said Saturday during a press conference. They said positive case counts jumped to 78, up from 9 on Friday.

Mark Kern, St. Clair County board chairman, expressed concern that a child had tested positive and urged the public to take social distancing seriously.

“That really drives this home that you are not just doing these things for yourself, you’re doing this for people who are vulnerable in our community — children, the elderly, people with immune systems who are compromised. Those are the ones we need to make sure are taken care of,” Kern said.

— Corinne Ruff

7:50 a.m. Sunday, April 5

Good morning, everyone! It’s supposed to be another cloudy, gloomy day in the region, which is perfect for staying home and keeping yourself safe.

The number of new COVID-19 cases keeps growing. Illinois passed a landmark number Saturday, topping 10,000 people who have tested positive. During his daily press briefing, Gov. J.B. Pritzker seemed frustrated that more people aren’t taking the situation seriously.

“All I can say is that those people either are not paying attention to the news, or they’re stupid,” Pritzker said. “There’s no reason why somebody should be ignoring this.”

Meanwhile, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson explained Saturday that his statewide stay-at-home order, which limits the number of people who can be in places like grocery stories, is about keeping people safe. It’s not because there are food shortages, he said.

However, in that same briefing, Parson noted that the coronavirus isn’t airborne, which sparked a question from our Jaclyn Driscollon Twitter. It highlights how confusing the science about the virus can be for lay people.

In the St. Louis area, Metro is shutting its indoor transit centers to the public. Metro said the indoor areas at Civic Center, Riverview, North County and Ballas will be closed indefinitely, but the four centers will remain open for MetroBus and MetroLink transit. In its press release, Metro reiterated its plea that people use public transit only for essential trips.

Also, we’ve compiled a handy guide for who is eligible for testing and where you can go to get tested.

Here are the latest coronavirus counts

  • St. Louis metro: 1,626 positive cases; 26 people have died. 
  • Missouri: 2,291 cases; 29 deaths.
  • Illinois: 10,357 cases; 243 deaths.

Shula Neuman

4:45 p.m. Saturday, April 4

At his daily press briefing Saturday, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said COVID-19 is not airborne and encouraged Missourians to enjoy the weather while practicing social distancing.

However, the Missouri State Medical Association said it does not know if it is airborne. 

<--break->Also, to clarify his statements about the statewide stay-at-home order, Parson said essential businesses like grocery stores will limit the number of customers shopping to reduce the spread of the coronavirus and not because grocers are running out of food and other products.

“Sometimes people always expect the government to come in and do everything,” Parson said. “It's about the everyday people, it’s about the clergy, it’s about people volunteering across our state, that should help in crises like that, and that's how we will get through COVID-19.”

— Andrea Henderson

11:45 a.m. Saturday, April 4

The St. Louis region’s hospitals are coming together to form the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force. The goal is for the largest health care systems to coordinate staffing, bed capacity, equipment capacity and other supplies in advance of an expected surge in the number of people getting sick from COVID-19.

The task force includes BJC HealthCare, Mercy, SSM Health and St Luke’s Hospital, and it will coordinate with state and regional health departments and elected officials. Dr. Alex Garza is the task force’s incident commander. He’s currently chief medical officer at SSM Health.

“For the region and the community to get through this entire thing, it takes a community response. It just can't be a health systems response,” Garza said Saturday. “And looking at the predicted numbers of patients that we are going to see, we can take care of patients, but what we really want to happen is the decrease in the number in patients as well.”

Garza said this coalition will bring the regional health systems together as one voice for the community to eliminate misinformation. The task force will also be looking into policies that may need to be enacted and access to supplies in various communities where resources may be scarce.

Gov. Mike Parson is also anticipating a surge in people needing care and with that, he is asking health care professionals to join the Missouri Disaster Medical Assistance Team, a reserve unit that would focus care in areas of the state hit hardest. Called MO DMAT-1, the team will be equipped to respond with mobile medical facilities or can be assigned to help in regular medical facilities. 

Parson is asking for all available medical professionals to join the unit. He is also opening it up to retired health care professionals and students. The need isn’t just for doctors and nurses, but includes professionals in dentistry, biomedicine, laboratory science, logistics and communications. There is an online application to apply. The unit has already been deployed in Clinton and Warrensburg.

— Shula Neuman and Andrea Henderson

8 a.m. Saturday, April 4

Good morning to all. If you’re working from home, you may need the reminder that today is Saturday, the weekend, and it's the last weekend before the entire state goes under a stay-at-home order issued by Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on Friday.

St. Louis County parks are now officially closed. We spoke to people at Creve Coeur Park on Friday in the final hours before the closure. They said they are understanding but also understandably sad about it.

While the number of people who have died in Missouri of COVID-19 remains relatively low, each death is tragic. We profiledSandy Kearney because of the huge impact she had on so many people. Kearney worked in the Rockwood School District since the 1980s, most recently as a guidance counselor.

Here are the latest coronavirus counts

  • St. Louis metro: 1,465 positive cases; 22 people have died. 
  • Missouri: 2,113 cases; 24 deaths.
  • Illinois: 8,904 cases; 210 deaths.

— Shula Neuman

9:05 p.m. Friday, April 3

Officials from St. Louis and St. Louis County plan to announce a new pandemic task force Saturday morning. 

The St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force will include BJC HealthCare, Mercy, SSM Health and St. Luke’s Hospital.

The task force is intended to unify health care providers across the city and county to coordinate with elected leaders, public health agencies and federal agencies.

— Eric Schmid

5:30 p.m. Friday, April 3

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson issued a statewide stay-at-home order Friday evening, becoming the 41st governor in the U.S. to prohibit nonessential business and activities. The order goes into effect early Monday morning and remains in place through April 24.

“Individuals shall avoid leaving their homes or place of residence,” Parson said. “We must all make sacrifices. This is not about one individual person, this is about our friends and neighbors.” 

Read our full story: Missouri Gov. Parson Issues Statewide Stay-At-Home Order

Like its neighboring states, essential businesses and services will remain open throughout Missouri. Those include grocery stores, pharmacies and medical services, among others.

Residents will also be able to leave their homes for walks and other exercise as long as they maintain six feet from others. Parson’s order also allows individuals to travel to and from places of worship, provided those places observe limitations on gathering size and social distancing. City and county leaders can enact stricter policies to respond to local situations, he said.

“Stay at home, Missouri,” Parson said.

Parson resisted issuing the order for weeks, citing the potential damage to Missouri’s economy. He received pressure to tell residents to stay home from high-profile Democrats and medical groups throughout the state. Until Friday evening, his state was one of 10 that did not have statewide restrictions on business and movement.

He directed the state’s Department of Health and Senior Services to issue a social distancing order that took effect March 23. Missourians were told to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people and stop eating or drinking at restaurants and bars. 

“That’s exactly where Missouri needed to be at that time,” he said.

St. Louis, St. Louis County, St. Charles County, Jefferson County and many other Missouri counties issued their own stay-at-home orders in March, as did the state of Illinois. 

— Eric Schmid

2:30 p.m. Friday, April 3

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson is not requiring people to wear protective masks when out in public, but she’ll soon be wearing one herself. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reportedly considering making a recommendation that people at least use a cloth mask in public in places hard-hit by coronavirus.

Krewson said she plans to run errands this weekend and will probably wear a surgical mask.

Related: Should We All Be Wearing Masks In Public? Health Care Experts Revisit The Question

City parks will not close — not yet, at least, Krewson said in her latest Facebook Live talk, held three times a week.

“I don’t want to close parks, but I do want you to socially distance in parks,” Krewson said. “We have to socially distance if we want the privilege of having our parks open.”

St. Louis County is closing its parks ahead of the weekend. Also, Castlewood and Elephant Rocks state parks, both in a short drive from the city, are closed because of overcrowding. Krewson expressed concern that could push more people into the city’s nearly 200 parks.

The coronavirus outbreak is delaying the installation of Belleville’s new bishop. Bishop Edward K. Braxton is retiring from the Catholic Diocese of Belleville, but his replacement, the Rev. Michael G. McGovern, isn’t traveling to southwestern Illinois because of the outbreak. McGovern is a pastor and vicar in the Archdiocese of Chicago. 

The Belleville News-Democrat reports the Vatican has accepted Braxton’s resignation, although there isn’t an official timeline for when he will leave his post. McGovern will be the Belleville diocese’s ninth bishop since 1888, serving about 80,000 Catholics in more than 100 parishes across southern Illinois.

Washington University has established a crisis response fund to cover emergency expenses for students and employees of the university who are in need. Donations help cover basic and essential needs like food, housing, utilities, medical and mental health care. University officials expect the need for donations will increase in the coming weeks and months.

University of Missouri Health Care is now publishing data on COVID-19 tests that the health system has conducted. The data is updated daily and includes results from the system’s 25-county service area. As of this morning, MU Health Care had conducted 2,774 COVID-19 tests since testing began last month. So far, the health system reports 89 positive results from those tests.

— Eric Schmid, Ryan Delaney

11:15 a.m. Friday, April 3

The Fair St. Louis celebrations have been canceled. The Independence Day-centered party, which consists of fireworks, a parade and lots of other events at the Gateway Arch parkgrounds, was supposed to happen July 2-4. This would have been the 40th anniversary of the Independence Day festival and the 138th anniversary of the parade, which is organized by the mysterious Veiled Prophet. 

St. Louis residents can now see the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the city according to ZIP code. A spokesman says an interactive map will be updated once a day, along with other data including age and gender of patients, pending cases and number of deaths.

Alpine Shop is helping disinfect and distribute tents to people who are homeless. The outdoor gear outfitter is partnering with Street Kitchen Community Outreach to collect the tents and hand them out. Alpine Shop is not collecting them at its store locations but asks people with tents to give to contact the company for more information.

Missouri is extending heating assistance until the end of May. Normally, the government aid to pay for utilities, known as LIHEAP, runs to the end of March. Residents seeking assistance must have a limited income to qualify.

Operation Food Search is bulking up school meal distribution in St. Louis. The regional food bank is giving out food boxes to families that come to schools in the city. This is in addition to the daily bagged meals St. Louis Public Schools is providing for children under 18.

Dierbergs is limiting shopping trips to one person per household, the grocery chain said this week. 

— Ryan Delaney and Holly Edgell

9:15 a.m. Friday, April 3

Good morning, everyone. We've almost made it to the weekend. 

While 1.8 million Missourians are not under a stay-at-home order, about 70% of the state’s population has been instructed to stay at home by a patchwork of county- and city-level orders, according to analysis by our public radio colleagues in Kansas City.

St. Louis County will close its parks starting at 8 tonight. If you need another way to connect with animals while stuck at home, we’ve got two ideas: The St. Louis Zoo is posting adorable animal content across social media. And the Humane Society of Missouri is offering curbside pet adoptions

Here are the latest coronavirus counts

  • St. Louis metro: 1,307 positive cases; 16 people have died. 
  • Missouri: 1,834 cases; 19 deaths.
  • Illinois: 7,695 cases; 157 deaths.

— Lindsay Toler

10 p.m. Thursday, April 2

A longtime guidance counselor at Eureka High School has died of complications related to COVID-19. 

Sandy Kearney worked at the school as a counselor since 1993 and in other capacities since the 1980s. 

In an email sent to Rockwood School District staff Thursday evening, Superintendent Mark Miles noted that several of Kearney’s family members also work in the school district.

“The connections she has within our entire Rockwood family are strong and numerous.

"Sandy will be missed terribly. Please keep Sandy’s family and friends in your thoughts and prayers,” he said. 

— Corinne Ruff

8 p.m. Thursday, April 2

St. Louis County will close all parks starting at 8 p.m. Friday. Barricades will be placed at park entrances of Creve Coeur Lake Park, Jefferson Barracks Park, Lone Elk Park and Grant’s Trail.

St. Louis County Parks Director Tom Ott said in a statement that warmer weather is driving crowds to parks. “During this health crisis, we cannot allow large groups of people to be together in one place,” he said.

The county said it’s counting on goodwill and common sense to enforce the rule, but if needed, park rangers and county police will patrol parks. Parks are expected to stay closed through at least April 22.

— Corinne Ruff


4 p.m. Thursday, April 2

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signed his sixth executive order in response to COVID-19 on Thursday. The order suspends late penalties for concealed carry license renewals. Parson said many are worried they’ll be forced to pay a late penalty if they don’t renew before it expires, which requires them to go to their local sheriff’s office. 

“These people should not be penalized for staying home, like they’ve been asked to,” Parson said. 

The Missouri National Guard is still performing alternate care facility site assessments. Such sites are used as temporary medical facilities when hospitals become overwhelmed. 

Earlier this week, Parson listed several large-scale sites being considered in St. Louis, Kansas City and elsewhere. But in Thursday’s press briefing, Brig. Gen. Levon Cumpton said the plan is to focus on converting hotels first. He said that will take care of any immediate surge in patients, while the Guard simultaneously works to prepare the larger venues. 

— Jaclyn Driscoll

The Jefferson County Health Department reported the first death related to COVID-19. Officials said a county resident in her 80s died after being hospitalized.

Kelley Vollmar, the county’s health department director, expressed her condolences to the woman’s family in a press release. 

“It is absolutely crucial that everyone does their part to stop the spread of this disease in our communities,” she said.

More mass layoffs. Rawlings Group has laid off 130 employees at its sporting goods manufacturing facility in Washington, Missouri, according to a notice sent to the state. The company has a long history of producing baseballs and helmets for Major League Baseball, though it has changed ownership multiple times over the last few decades.

Schulte Hospitality Group also issued a notice to the state indicating it will lay off 229 hotel employees by the end of June. That includes workers at the Angad Arts Hotel, the Renaissance St. Louis Airport Hotel and the Residence Inn in St. Louis, as well as Homewood Suites by Hilton in Maryland Heights.

— Corinne Ruff

1 p.m. Thursday, April 2

St. Louis County government officials have sent warning letters to about 50 nonessential businesses that have continued to stay open, despite the county’s stay-at-home order. Among these businesses are bookstores, craft stores, gyms, dine-in restaurants and beauty salons, none of which is listed as essential in the county’s stay-at-home order, according to a press release issued by the county.

Those that do not close their doors could lose access to potential grants from the CARES Act, a $2 trillion relief package Congress approved last week. Businesses may also be charged with a misdemeanor, and the county can seek a temporary restraining order to force them to close. 

“Everyone must do their part to save our community from further harm during this crisis,” County Executive Sam Page said in a statement. “Those who are not designated as an essential must follow this public health order. It has the force of law.” 

— Eli Chen

11:35 a.m. Thursday, April 2

St. Louis-area advocates for equal housing are calling on local banks to issue a temporary stop on foreclosures. The St. Louis Equal Housing and Community Reinvestment Alliance have published 10 actions they want private local lenders to take for consumers not protected by recent moratoriums issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Among the alliance’s demands are temporary bans on: all foreclosures and evictions of properties secured by mortgage loans, consumer and business credit payments, and late fees for borrowers who’ve been affected by COVID-19. 

Struggling artists could get relief. The Luminary, a Cherokee Street gallery, and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts are offering 60 emergency grants of $1,000 to artists in the St. Louis region who’ve suffered financial loss as a result of the pandemic. They will be offering 60 of the grants in May and June. 

The city of St. Louis has extended free meter parking until April 22. Penalties will be frozen through May 15, and hearings regarding parking tickets will be rescheduled. 

The University of Missouri-St. Louis has postponed its spring commencement ceremonies until December. 

— Eli Chen

9 a.m. Thursday, April 2

Do you have personal protective equipment to donate? BJC HealthCare and SSM Health, two of the largest hospital systems in the St. Louis region, are sharing a donation page where you can find out where to drop off supplies. St. Louis County Police are accepting donations as well. Find out how to donate by reading our story: Personal Protective Equipment Shortages Could Happen In St. Louis Region.

Here are the latest coronavirus counts

  • St. Louis metro: 1,106 positive cases; 12 people have died. 
  • Missouri: 1,581 cases; 18 deaths.
  • Illinois: 6,980 cases; 141 deaths.

We got a good question from a blog reader yesterday who wanted to know which counties are included in the daily St. Louis metro coronavirus count. On the Missouri side, we include the city of St. Louis as well as St. Louis, St. Charles, Jefferson, Franklin, Warren and Lincoln counties. In Illinois, we count Monroe, Madison, St. Clair, Jersey and Clinton counties. Keep your questions coming: ltoler@stlpublicradio.org.

— Lindsay Toler

9 p.m. Wednesday, April 1

The region’s poor and disadvantaged people will be hurt the most by the spread of the coronavirus, public health experts said in a virtual town hall meeting Wednesday evening.

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page has tapped Washington University professor Jason Purnell to lead a regional response to address disparities in health resources. Purnell said poor people are more likely to have lost their jobs and have health conditions that make them susceptible to serious cases of COVID-19.

At the same meeting, city officials expressed concern about having enough hospital beds for sick patients. Dr. Fred Echols, St. Louis health director, said many of the state’s rural hospitals have closed, and those that are left likely don’t have the resources to deal with the sickest COVID-19 patients. That could put a strain on St. Louis hospitals as people from outside the region travel here for treatment. The health department is looking to repurpose hospital spaces such as surgery suites to house sick patients, Echols said. 

The St. Louis Department of Health is now tracking COVID-19 cases by ZIP code. The city’s 239 cases are spread somewhat evenly across the region, although 63103 north of downtown and 63115 in north St. Louis have the most cases, with 22 each. You can check out the map here.

— Sarah Fentem

5 p.m. Wednesday, April 1

Missouri will soon withhold $180 million from its budget to cope with the economic fallout of the coronavirus crisis, Gov. Mike Parson said Wednesday.

Parson estimates that between now and the end of the fiscal year on June 30, the state will have a shortfall of more than $500 million because of unanticipated coronavirus spending.

“When we began this year we anticipated economic growth, and we had based our budget on that growth,” he said. “COVID-19 has had serious impacts on our anticipated economic growth, and now we are expecting significant revenue declines.”

Parson said state officials hope that they can use $315 million in federal funding this year to help with the shortfall.

The governor laid out several budget cuts for the Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development, the Department of Transportation, the Office of Administration, the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Economic Development. He said cuts likely also will be made to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Even after those adjustments, the state could be forced to restrict more spending, depending on the economic impacts of COVID-19, Parson said.

State officials are compelled to make cuts because they need to free resources to buy personal protective equipment and other supplies to fight the coronavirus, even if the federal government may later reimburse the state for those costs, state Budget Director Dan Haug said.

“We are seeing unprecedented drops in revenue from the significant reduction of economic activity from people staying home,” Haug said. “We feel like this is going to impact the budget not only for this year, but for next year.” 

Municipal and County police departments in the St. Louis region are eligible for more than $2.5 million in federal funds to help address the COVID-19 epidemic, the Department of Justice announced today.

Local departments in St Louis, St. Charles, St. Clair, Madison and Jefferson counties and municipalities will be able to apply for the money to hire personnel, pay overtime costs, buy protective equipment and address inmates’ medical needs.

The city of St. Louis is eligible for nearly $1.4 million. St. Louis County is eligible for close to $400,000.

The money is part of $850 million the Department of Justice is making available nationwide. Congress authorized the funds last month as part of the $2 trillion emergency coronavirus-related stimulus bill. 

Metro Transit is encouraging people in the St. Louis region to use public buses, trains and call-a-ride services for essential trips only.

Reducing crowding on buses and trains will minimize the risk of essential workers contracting the virus, Roach said.

“We’ve been hearing from hospital workers, grocery store employees and others about how vital transit is to them during this challenging time for our region,” said Taulby Roach, president of Bi-State Development, which operates Metro.

Metro Transit is using rear-door boarding waiving cash fares on its buses and call-a-ride services until at least April 14. But riders still need to pay to use MetroLink trains. 

— Jaclyn Driscoll and Sarah Fentem

3:25 p.m. Wednesday, April 1

Illinois now has had 141 deaths due to COVID-19, said Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health. She reported the numbers at Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s press briefing on Wednesday.

Ezike also saluted state health employees and workers in local health agencies who are fighting the pandemic while still carrying out the regular work of their departments. 

She reiterated, “Social distancing works.”

“It’s one of our best strategies to get on the other side of this unprecedented event,” Ezike said.

Pritzker began the daily briefing with a strong reminder for people to complete the census form. He said Illinois could lose billions in federal funding if there is an undercount. That funding includes money for health care, he said.

“Stay at home, and take 10 minutes to complete the census,” Pritzker said. 

He said people can fill out the form without leaving home, at my2020census.gov.

Pritzker also said he and other governors have asked the federal government to open a special enrollment period for the health care insurance marketplace made possible by the federal Affordable Care Act.

St. Louis County has announced that a fifth person has died of COVID-19. The man was in his 50s. Officials did not provide any other information. There are more than 500 confirmed cases of the virus in the county.

The Frontier League, the independent baseball league that includes the Gateway Grizzlies, has postponed the start of its 2020 season indefinitely.

“The safety of our Fans, Players and Team employees is our highest priority at this time,” Commissioner Bill Lee said in a statement. “We are committed to doing everything in our power to play baseball in 2020 and will continue to track the pandemic as well as Federal, State and local social distancing requirements in all of our markets.”

The Grizzlies, who play in Sauget, Illinois, were supposed to start the season in mid-May.

Missouri’s Supreme Court has extended the suspension of most in-person proceedings until at least May 1. There are some exceptions, including any court proceedings related to the pandemic.

Individual circuits are making the decision how to hold trials and other hearings.

O’Fallon, Missouri, has closed most amenities in its municipal parks, including the skate park and tennis and pickleball courts.

The closures come on top of an announcement by the city yesterday that all public buildings would be closed until further notice, and all meetings except for the city council were canceled during April.

St. Louis has got talent: A 32-hour streamathon will allow St. Louisans to bring local entertainment into their stay-at-home lives and raise money to benefit small and independent businesses in need of support during the COVID-19 crisis. 

Organized by NexCore Coworking St. Louis, the event will showcase talent in a variety of ways, including comedy, cooking and lip sync challenges. All performances will be streamed online from people’s homes. 

Streamathon for St. Louis:

  • When: 4 p.m. April 10 to midnight April 11.
  • Where: StreamathonforSTL.com, with additional access via Facebook and other social media platforms.

— Holly Edgell and Rachel Lippmann

11 a.m. Wednesday, April 1

The first of the month means paying rent for many Americans, but the rising unemployment rate due to the coronavirus outbreak means not everyone will be able to make those rent payments.

A group of activists across Missouri is demanding the governor and other state officials act to suspend all mortgage and rent payments, place a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions, prohibit utility shut-offs and provide more resources for people experiencing homelessness.

“We can and must stand united to ensure the well-being of our whole community through this crisis. This will build a healthier and stronger Missouri for generations to come,” wrote the organizers, Kansas City Tenants. 

There are already moratoriums on evictions in St. Louis and St. Louis County, and utilities including Ameren and Spire have announced they will not disconnect services for nonpayment during the state of emergency.

Fort Leonard Wood has declared a public health emergency in response to the spread of coronavirus. That means commanders will have additional authority to enforce compliance with safety protocols. It applies to all soldiers and civilians on the base. People violating the order could face criminal charges or be barred from the base.

“We need you to follow health protection orders like your life depended on it,” said Maj. Gen. Donna Martin during her weekly briefing today shown on Facebook. “Because your life, and everyone else’s, does depend on it.”

Martin said troop movements will continue but only using sterile military transport.

Leaders at Fort Leonard Wood also reminded soldiers that working from home still means being on duty, being presentable and ready to report. That means not drinking alcohol and complying with dress code regulations.

North St. Louisans are getting a second testing site for COVID-19. CareSTL Health will begin testing at 5471 Dr. Martin Luther King Drive on Monday, April 6. Affinia will begin testing on Thursday, April 2, at its facility in the Carr Square neighborhood. For both sites, people who think they may have the virus should call ahead for pre-screening and to make an appointment.

The coronavirus outbreak is limiting Amtrak service in Missouri and Illinois. The River Runner, which travels between Kansas City and St. Louis, is currently running just two trains a day, one eastbound and one westbound. There are just three trains each way daily between Chicago and St. Louis. The lines between Chicago and Carbondale, and Chicago and Quincy, also are operating on reduced schedules.

Patients who go to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in O’Fallon, Illinois, with symptoms of COVID-19 such as a fever, cough and shortness of breath will now be screened in a tent, rather than in the emergency room. 

Patients will go through the standard intake process, including registration and vital signs, in the tent. Those with suspected coronavirus infection will be taken into the hospital through a separate door that leads directly into a prepared room.

“We are taking these extra measures in separating possible COVID-19 patients to further protect our community and colleagues,” said Erin Hazen, the manager of St. Elizabeth’s emergency department.

An employee at the St. Charles County Pet Adoption Center has tested positive for the coronavirus.

The county says the employee was last at the facility, at 4850 Mid Rivers Mall Drive, on March 20. It closed to the public five days later. The St. Charles County Department of Public Health has started reaching out to those who might have come in contact with the employee. Appropriate cleaning protocols will be followed.

— Rachel Lippmann, Jonathan Ahl and Holly Edgell

9 a.m. Wednesday, April 1

Happy Census Day! Yes, the census is still happening. It's counting all the residents of the U.S. and recording where they live as of today. Don’t forget to fill the form out (especially if you’re a college student).

We talked to restaurant owners in The Hill about staying open and taking pressure off grocery stores. Listen to the full conversation on our daily talk show, St. Louis on the Air.

Three people in our region died of COVID-19 yesterday. Here are the latest coronavirus counts

  • St. Louis metro: 918 positive cases; 10 people have died. 
  • Missouri: 1,327 cases; 14 deaths.
  • Illinois: 5,994 cases; 99 deaths.

— Lindsay Toler

10:10 p.m. Tuesday, March 31

There now have been four COVID-19 deaths in St. Louis County.

A woman in her 50s with chronic medical conditions died Monday. On Tuesday, a man in his 80s with chronic medical conditions died, county health officials said.

Also on Tuesday, the St. Charles County Department of Public Health reported that an 83-year-old woman died of COVID-19.

Her death follows two others in St. Charles County.

— Chad Davis

7:15 p.m. Tuesday, March 31

The Republican members of the St. Louis County Council on Monday asked the St. Louis County Circuit Court and Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell to refrain from releasing from jail people accused of violent crimes, repeated car thefts and certain drug offenses. 

The court had been signing off on the releases of some detainees to protect the jail population from the coronavirus outbreak. Bell advocated for some of the releases, on the grounds that people accused of misdemeanors and low-level offenses should be allowed to leave the jail for their safety. 

Judges have largely released people accused of nonviolent crimes or probation violations, such as failing to appear in court.

More than one-third of the people who have been released were enrolled in a specific drug treatment program that was expected to finish next month anyway, court spokeswoman Christine Bertelson wrote Tuesday.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch last week reported that detainees charged with violent crimes also were among those released from local jails.

In a letter Monday to Presiding Judge Michael Burton and Bell, Councilmen Ernie Trakas, Tim Fitch and Mark Harder said no one accused of a crime of violence should be released from jail.

The councilmen also wrote that they do not want people accused of multiple car thefts or those accused of selling opioids to be let out of jail.

“If inmates are being considered for release, we request you notify the police agency that submitted the request for prosecution and the crime victim for input before you make your final decision,” they wrote.

Frontier Health and Rehabilitation, a nursing home in St. Charles, is reporting that 12 residents and two employees have tested positive for the coronavirus. That’s an increase from last week, when the nursing home reported that three residents tested positive. A dozen employees at Frontier Health also are not coming into work due to illness. As a result, the facility has had to borrow workers from other nursing homes in its network. 

Nursing homes are struggling to adopt federal guidelines on preventing infection. Blocking access to relatives and canceling social activities are making residents feel isolated. In spite of staff’s increased efforts to sanitize facilities and screen people for symptoms, the coronavirus has infected people at multiple nursing homes in Missouri and Illinois.

The Missouri Department of Social Services will make special payments to some Child Care Subsidy providers across the state.

State officials said that for March, providers will be paid “no less than the average of their payments for the preceding three months.” Providers whose March income was equal to or greater than their three-month average will not receive a payment.

Child Care Subsidy providers are still required to pay workers while facilities are closed.

St. Louis officials announced Monday that city buildings are closed to the public. 

Drop-off boxes for city payments and other documents are now located outside City Hall at the Tucker and Market Street entrances. A limited number of city officials will work inside City Hall. Many continue to work from home.

— Julie O’Donoghue, Eli Chen and Chad Davis

5 p.m. Tuesday, March 31

Missouri National Guard is scouting the America’s Center Convention Complex in downtown St. Louis among several sites across the state to serve as overflow hospitals during the COVID-19 outbreak, Gov. Mike Parson said Tuesday.

“Nothing has been confirmed at this time,” Parson said in his press briefing on Tuesday. “But we have looked at several possible locations.” 

Those sites include: 

  • America’s Center Convention Complex in St. Louis. 
  • Hy-Vee Arena in Kansas City. 
  • Silverstein Eye Centers Arena in Independence.
  • Hammons Student Center and JQH Arena in Springfield.
  • Leggett & Platt Athletic Center in Joplin.
  • Show Me Center in Cape Girardeau.
  • Hearnes Center in Columbia.

Parson again stated he is not considering releasing inmates from Missouri prisons. Anne Precythe, the director of the Department of Corrections, said there are no positive cases of coronavirus in any of Missouri’s state prisons. As of Tuesday morning, Precyth said 18 inmates have been tested for the virus, with the results for four tests still pending.

“One offender tested positive while hospitalized and has since tested negative twice,” Precythe said. “Two staff have tested positive. Neither work in a prison.” 

State Auditor Nicole Galloway, who is running against Parson in the 2020 gubernatorial race, has called on the governor to issue a statewide stay-at-home order. 

“The state auditor needs to worry about being the state auditor right now,” Parson said at the briefing on Tuesday. “This is not the time to play politics.” 

St. Louis and St. Louis, St. Charles, Jefferson and Lincoln counties are among the local jurisdictions that have all issued stay-at-home orders over the past few weeks. The Rolla City Council passed an ordinance yesterday to enact a stay-at-home order that will begin Monday.

Meanwhile, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker is extending his state’s stay-at-home order through next month. Pritzer on Tuesday said he will sign the extension of the disaster proclamation tomorrow. The proclamation also affects K-12 schools where on-site schooling will be suspended through April 30.

Pritzker said the effort is aimed at slowing the rate of new coronavirus cases in the state.

“Illinois has one of the strongest public health systems in the nation – but even so, we aren’t immune to this virus’ ability to push our existing capacity beyond its limit,” Pritzker said in a press release. “We need to maintain our course and keep working to flatten the curve.”

North St. Louis’ first COVID-19 testing site opens Thursday in the Carr Square neighborhood. 

Affinia Healthcare’s Biddle Street location will begin drive-thru and walk-up testing in its parking lot for individuals who are experiencing symptoms and need to be tested for the virus.

Kendra Holmes, the center’s chief operating officer, said having a testing site in north St. Louis is vital because African Americans in low-income areas often don’t have access to necessary health care. 

Missouri will close Castlewood State Park in Ballwin and three other state parks by 5 p.m. Thursday following concerns about crowds.

The state will also close:

  • Elephant Rocks State Park.
  • Watkins Woolen Mill State Historic Site and Park. 
  • Weston Bend State Park.

Another park, St. Joe State Park, will close its off-road vehicle riding area. Both Elephant Rocks and St. Joe state parks are within about an hour-and-a-half drive south of St. Louis.
“We’re continuing to evaluate the situation and make adjustments to operations as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves,” Carol Comer, director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, said in a statement. “As conditions and recommendations change, we will make additional closures as needed.”

The temporary closures and operational changes are to continue until April 30.

The Gateway Resilience Fund has awarded nearly $440,000 in grants to 525 individuals and 16 downtown St. Louis small businesses. The fund, started by the St. Louis Community Foundation, aims to help local small business owners and employees affected by the pandemic.

“We established the Gateway Resilience Fund to get financial assistance in the hands of people quickly and efficiently,” said Roo Yawitz, owner of the Gramophone sandwich shop in the Grove and one of the fund’s financial backers. “From rent, utilities, and even payments to vendors and suppliers, people — our neighbors — are hurting, and we want to help.”

More changes for area college students: The University of Missouri-St. Louis is moving all of its summer courses online. The changes will affect all of the university’s four-, eight- and 12-week sessions. And Southern Illinois University campuses in Edwardsville and Carbondale are changing the way most undergraduate and some graduate courses will be graded for the spring 2020 semester. Students will be allowed to convert their grades to “pass or no credit” once faculty submit the final grades to the university.

Want to check out a local music fest tomorrow night? St. Louis and regional musicians are performing a free, livestreamed festival Wednesday night on Instagram. Stay Home Fest (@STAYHOMETHO on Instagram) has scheduled 15 acts to fill more than six hours of festival programming. The musicians are accepting donations through their Venmo accounts.

— Chad Davis, Jaclyn Driscoll and Holly Edgell

1:25 p.m. Tuesday, March 31

A Schnucks employee in University City has tested positive for COVID-19. The store on Olive Boulevard where the employee works underwent a “deep cleaning” and is open for business today, according to a statement from Schnucks management.

The employee is now quarantined at home, the spokesperson said. Although no other employees have shown symptoms, five have been asked to self-quarantine. 

Looking to donate medical supplies? BJC HealthCare and SSM Health are now accepting donations at 10 locations throughout the St. Louis region.

Local hospitals are looking for new and unused items, including N95 masks, infrared thermometers, disposable medical gowns, goggles and hand sanitizer. 

Community spread of COVID-19 is now occurring in Lincoln County, according to the county’s health department. That means some people are becoming infected without knowing exactly how or where they were exposed to the virus. 

The Lincoln County Health Department instituted a stay-at-home order on Saturday, requiring residents to stay home whenever possible and limit social gatherings to fewer than 10 people. A full list of testing locations in Missouri is available on the state health department’s website

— Shahla Farzan

11:20 a.m. Tuesday, March 31

St. Louis Post-Dispatch owner Lee Enterprises has announced company-wide pay reductions and furloughs

Most employees of the Iowa-based media company will either receive a pay reduction or furlough equivalent to two weeks' salary, according to an internal email the Post-Dispatch newsroom’s union posted on Twitter. Lee Enterprises also owns Town and Country-based Suburban Journals.

“The sacrifices we make now will minimize the long-term damage the pandemic could have on our business,” Lee Enterprises President and CEO Kevin Mowbray wrote in the email to staff. 

The cuts come on the heels of announcements of layoffs and suspensions of print editions at several St. Louis-area publications including the Riverfront Times, Webster-Kirkwood Times, West End Word, South County Times, and the NorthSider and SouthSider weekly newspapers.

Rolla residents will be under a stay-at-home order beginning Monday, April 6. The Rolla City Council passed an ordinance yesterday, ordering residents to stay home except under certain circumstances. 

Residents will still be allowed to leave their homes for essential activities, such as buying food, picking up medications and exercising outdoors. All social gatherings, including religious worship, funerals and weddings, are limited to fewer than 10 people.

The ordinance closes all nonessential businesses in Rolla but includes more than 40 exemptions, such as grocery stores, construction companies and restaurants offering takeout.

The stay-at-home order will remain in effect through at least May 11.

— Shahla Farzan

8:45 a.m. Tuesday, March 31

Good morning, and thank you for reading our live blog. Things have been calmer here compared to the past three weeks, though the number of positive cases in our region and across the country continues to climb.

Here are the latest coronavirus counts

  • St. Louis metro: 643 positive cases; six people have died. 
  • Missouri: 1,031 cases; 13 deaths.
  • Illinois: 5,057 cases; 73 deaths.

Have you been laid off, furloughed or had your hours cut due to the coronavirus outbreak? We're collecting audio stories from residents about their work-related experiences during the coronavirus outbreak. Record a voice memo on your phone telling us how your work has been affected and email it to me: ltoler@stlpublicradio.org.

— Lindsay Toler

9:45 p.m. Monday, March 30

The Missouri Department of Economic Development has established a hotline for employers financially affected by the pandemic. The hotline will point callers to federal and state assistance programs and will help employers through various resources during full or partial company shutdowns. Further state and federal business relief assistance can be found here.

Eight employees of Annie Gunn’s restaurant in Chesterfield have tested positive for the coronavirus, the restaurant posted on its website Monday.

The statement from the owners said the restaurant closed March 19 to be in compliance with a shutdown of all dine-in eating in the county. Since closing, they learned that eight employees have tested positive for COVID-19. None of the employees experienced or reported to management any symptoms before March 19, the statement said. 

The owners said no employees of their adjacent market, which has been closed since March 22, have reported symptoms.

— Fred Ehrlich

5:40 p.m. Monday, March 30

St. Louis is further restricting vehicle traffic in several city parks to reduce the number of visitors and allow more space for people seeking fresh air and exercise during the stay-at-home orders.

The city will close all or some streets until April 22 in O’Fallon, Willmore, Fairground, Carondelet and Forest parks. Roads on the east end of Tower Grove Park closed to cars last week. 

The principal of Duchesne Elementary School in Florissant has tested positive for the coronavirus, the Ferguson-Florissant School District announced. The results came back while the district was on spring break last week. Schools in the district have been closed since March 18.

— Ryan Delaney

3:45 p.m. Monday, March 30

Missouri has crossed the 1,000-person threshold of COVID-19 cases, Gov. Mike Parson announced Monday afternoon. Thirteen of the 1,031 patients have died. 

“We know this is not easy, and it may seem like there is no end in sight, but I assure you we will get through this,” Parson said. “We are working every day to make sure that happens.”

Other notes from Parson’s daily briefing: He is considering closing state parks because of overcrowding. Warm weather over the weekend sent people flocking to nature to escape home confines. But having so many people in parks clogged parking lots and trails, making mandated social distancing difficult.

“A little disappointing there,” Parson said.

State campgrounds and visitor centers are closed, but people can still use hiking and bike trails. Parson said he’ll make a decision on whether to close some or all parks soon. In St. Louis, Mayor Lyda Krewson has closed public park facilities such as basketball courts and playgrounds.

Parson rejected the idea of closing interstate roadways but did say he will extend the state’s social distancing guidelines beyond Friday. 

“It’s just a matter of where we move that time frame to. I’m thinking we’re at least 30, 60 days away from lifting any orders.”

There is no statewide shelter-in-place order.

Doctors welcome: Missouri is waiving board licensing requirements to allow physicians who are certified in other states to treat patients in Missouri either in person or through telehealth platforms.

The state is working with major-metro mayors to house and protect people who are homeless. Parson said he spoke with mayors yesterday about alternative places to shelter people. 

Students of St. Charles Community College will have to soak up summer sun along with the blue light of their laptops. The two-year public college announced its summer semester will be remote only to protect student and staff health.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced the St. Clair and Madison county health departments will receive additional personal protective equipment from the state. The governor did not specify how many additional PPE items each county will get. 

“PPE is a first line of defense for our workers. It’s not a luxury they should have to ration,” Pritzker said.

The governor continued his criticism of the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic. The federal government sent Illinois surgical masks instead of promised N95 masks in a shipment the state received over the weekend, Pritzker said at Monday’s press conference.

“This federal shipment pales in comparison to our requests and appears to be even smaller than our previous two shipment requests,” he said. “In the absence of aggressive action from the federal government, my team will continue to run down every possible lead to get what we need.” 

Pritzker announced Illinois will receive nearly 5.5 million surgical and N95 masks from state-executed contracts by the end of the week. The governor also praised companies and individuals in the state who are donating PPE. 

If you have personal protective equipment that you want to donate, contact ppe.donations@illinois.gov

Madison County will also accept PPE donations from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. Tuesday, March 31, through Friday, April 2, at 101 E. Edwardsville Road, Wood River 62095. 

The Belleville News-Democrat reports that a school bus driver who helped deliver meals to students has tested positive for COVID-19.

In an email to parents, District 201 Superintendent Jeff Dosier said the administration became aware of the positive result on Sunday night.

He said that based on information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, students who received brown sack lunches are at low risk for exposure to the virus.

— Ryan Delaney, Eric Schmid and Holly Edgell

11:40 a.m. Monday, March 30

A ballot initiativeaimed at legalizing marijuana in Missouri faces an uncertain future. In a statement released over the weekend, Missourians for a New Approach Advisory Chair Dan Viets said the status of the ballot item is unclear — primarily because of the pandemic. “It is, of course, virtually impossible to effectively gather signatures on petitions given the response to the coronavirus pandemic,” Viets wrote, adding: “We should know within a very short time whether the campaign will be continuing this year or not. We will notify you as soon as we have further information.

The marijuana initiative was launched in late January. The campaign manager for a bid to expand Medicaid, an effort that began in earnest last year, said last week that his group had enough signatures to make the 2020 ballot.

Gamblers will have to wait a little longer to place their bets. The Missouri Gaming Commission has extended its orders for riverboat casinos to remain closed to April 6. The decision keeps the commission in compliance with the Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services order to maintain social distancing practices. 

— Andrea Henderson, Jason Rosenbaum and Shula Neuman

9 a.m. Monday, March 30

Good morning. And thank you to everyone who’s sent us questions about the coronavirus. We published three new Q&A guides today to answer as many of them as we can. The Q&As are divided by topic: legal restrictions, health and safety, and making ends meet. Don’t see your question answered? Ask us here.

Here are the latest coronavirus counts: 

  • St. Louis metro: 558 positive cases; six people have died. 
  • Missouri: 903 cases; 12 deaths.
  • Illinois: 4.596 cases; 65 deaths.

What we’re watching today: As Missouri likely passes the 1,000-case threshold this week, will the state build emergency hospitals? And will Illinois ramp up its testing to 10,000 people per day?

— Lindsay Toler

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