CITY HALL – City officials urged residents on Thursday to stay calm during the crisis caused by the coronavirus. Then they announced a long list of sometimes painful steps they are taking to prevent its spread.
The most serious of them: a ban on any event of more than 1,000 people except a religious service. City Health Director Dr. Fredrick Echols said at a news conference Thursday that as part of his emergency powers, he was stopping the gatherings until further notice.
That doesn’t include the day-to-day operation of buildings and schools with more than 1,000 people.
“It’s really not a case of if, but when we have a case in St. Louis,” Echols told reporters at a news conference at the mayor’s office at City Hall. He was one of several city government leaders, starting with the mayor, who laid out plans for the city’s response to the pandemic.
Although to date there has been only one reported case in St. Louis County, and none yet in the city, “What we know from other countries and from other areas of our own country is that the virus has been spreading very rapidly,” Mayor Lyda Krewson said.
“We feel like we have to take these measures anyway in order to prevent that spread,” Krewson said. “This is a very challenging situation, and a very fluid situation.”
Many gatherings are being canceled, and many colleges and universities are moving classes from in-person to online.
Among the steps Krewson mentioned was a halt on water shutoffs until at least May 15 so that people can have access to water for personal hygiene. That’s in line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for COVID-19. However, people still would have to pay their bills.
“You’ve got to have water in order to prevent that spread,” Krewson said.
The city has placed handwashing stations throughout downtown, and the city has informed its employees that they would be paid for any time they might spend in quarantine. They would not lose sick time.
The crisis has devastated businesses, Krewson said.
“Our airport is down about 30 percent in terms of traffic,” she noted.
As a result of this, other businesses have also been affected, the mayor said.
“Double-tip your server if you can possibly afford it,” she suggested.
Krewson was first among a long list of officials who spoke at the news conference. Others included Echols, Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards, police Chief John Hayden, Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson, Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner and other city officials. That group has been working on a response to the crisis.
Echols said it was important that people get the right information.
“There’s a lot of misinformation that’s circulating,” Echols said. “We want to make sure everyone in the city of St. Louis has accurate information at their fingertips.”
The Health Department has posted information about COVID-19 on its web site, https://www.stlouis-mo.gov/government/departments/health/
Simple measures, such as washing hands, can help cut the number of cases, Echols said.
Edwards said that the police and fire departments, paramedics and EMS workers were all prepared to proceed in a safe manner.
Medical units are prepared in jails, and visiting in jails is limited to two days a week instead of seven. The only contact visits allowed are between attorneys and clients.