Hospitals in the St. Louis area are cancelling all elective procedures starting Monday in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Several hospital systems, including BJC HealthCare, SSM Health, Mercy and St. Luke’s, announced on Thursday the suspension of elective procedures. The hospitals said in a joint statement that they were seeking to protect both patients as well as caregivers.
The statement said the change involved all procedures that could be delayed eight weeks or longer without risk.
The number of confirmed Missouri cases of COVID-19 rose to 28 Thursday. One person has died, in Boone County.
New cases included two teachers and the parent of a student at Deutsch Early Childhood Center at Congregation Temple Israel in St. Louis County. The school’s director that all three were recovering well.
African-American pastors said they were especially worried about the potential devastating impact of the virus in black neighborhoods, where many residents rely on public health clinics that are already beginning to feel a financial pinch.
The St. Louis Metropolitan Clergy Coalition represents more than 150 churches in the St. Louis region. Leaders of the coalition, in a conference call, told St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page and others that some public health clinics had already cut staffing by one-third because of the financial toll the virus is taking on the economy.“When you have a crisis at all, the crisis is exacerbated in our community,” the Rev. Darryl Gray, a prominent St. Louis-area civil rights activist, said in a phone interview.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson’s administration rolled out a series of temporary changes to the state’s social safety net rules to help people struggling because of the virus, including waiving work requirements for food stamps for able-bodied adults without dependents for 90 days.
The state also won’t kick people off Medicaid health care; it extended child-care subsides; and it asked the federal government to allow Missouri to further relax rules on access to food stamps.
Leaders from three St. Louis-area counties – St. Charles, Jefferson and Franklin – said they were limiting gatherings to 10 or fewer people. In an afternoon news conference, Parson encouraged, but did not require, that gatherings be limited to 10 for at least two weeks.
“Even nine, eight people in a small room can be just as dangerous as 50 people in a larger room,” St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann said.
Concerns were also raised about crowding behind prison walls.
State officials said that anyone entering a Missouri Department of Corrections facility or office would undergo enhanced screening. The new procedure will require everyone — staff, volunteers, vendors and other visitors — to answer a series of health-related questions when entering a corrections-related office or facility, ranging from community supervision centers to the state’s 20 prisons.
Corrections spokeswoman Karen Pojmann said that there were no suspected cases of COVID-19 among the state’s nearly 26,000 inmates and that there were no plans to release any inmates, something the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri requested Wednesday in a letter to Parson.
The ACLU urged Parson to commute the sentence of any inmate considered particularly vulnerable to the virus whose sentence would end within the next two years. The ACLU also urged police to stop arresting people for minor offenses.
All public and charter schools in Missouri are now closed.
Southeast Missouri State University, meanwhile, joined most other major colleges in the state in saying that all classes for the rest of the spring semester would be held online.
At the University of Missouri, undergraduate students still living on campus in Columbia after classes were moved online were told this week to make plans to move out. The change was made because public health officials instructed the university to reduce the density of on-campus housing, William Stackman, vice provost for student affairs, said in an email to students.
U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo., announced Wednesday night that she would self-quarantine because she had met with a colleague last week who had tested positive for COVID-19. Wagner said she had no symptoms but was isolating herself as a precaution .
Some Missouri institutions were trying to ease the tension by offering online diversions.
The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra launched an “Instrument Playground Online,” a site featuring videos, photos and activities aimed at introducing children and others to the instruments of the orchestra and the musicians.
The zoos in both St. Louis and Kansas City are closed, but both are offering videos of favorite animals. The St. Louis Zoo is posting periodic videos to Facebook, YouTube and other sites, including one Wednesday of outdoor Humboldt penguins on a “field trip” to visit indoor penguins. The Kansas City Zoo has live webcams showing animals – penguins, polar bears and giraffes – going about their daily routines.