Missouri closing casinos; inmates freed to cut virus risk

JEFFERSON CITY (AP) — Gov. Mike Parson has ordered the closure of Missouri’s 13 casinos through March 30 as part of an effort to limit public gatherings in the public health battle against the coronavirus. Meanwhile, some nonviolent jail inmates are being freed to reduce the risk of transmission behind bars.

The governor announced Tuesday that the casinos would close at midnight “to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Illinois closed casinos on Monday for at least two weeks.

Missouri Gaming Commission Chairman Mike Leara said the impact of the shutdown could mean up to $1 million a day in lost revenue for the state. Leara said he felt especially bad for the thousands of casino workers in Missouri.

“These people, they love their jobs, they make good money,” Leara said. “Man, that’s really tough to tell them they can’t come to work.”

The virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, for most people; but severe illness is more likely in the elderly and people with existing health problems. Worldwide, COVID-19 has killed more than 7,800 people so far, while more than 80,000 have recovered.

So far, eight cases have been confirmed in Missouri, with no deaths.

Across the state, other steps were being taken to protect people from the virus.

At St. Louis’ Gateway Arch, the visitor center, museum and grounds remained open, but the tram that transports visitors to the top of the Arch was shut down until further notice.

At St. Louis City Hall, visitors were being scanned for fevers before entering the building. St. Louis Circuit Court suspended all jury trials through April 10.

Meanwhile, the top prosecutors in St. Louis city and county took actions to ease jail crowding and reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner said detention would be sought only for suspects who posed a threat to public safety. She also said her office was seeking “cash bail alternatives” and was taking steps to push back most court cases for 60 days to reduce courtroom contact during the health crisis.

St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell said in a statement that anyone arrested for a nonviolent crime who did not appear to pose a threat would be released with a summons to appear in court, rather than be jailed. People already housed at the county justice center awaiting trial will be considered for release if they are accused of a nonviolent or “low-level” crime, Bell said.


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