Missouri budget chief cites virus as revenue plunges

(AP) — As Missouri lawmakers prepare to consider emergency funding in response to the coronavirus crisis, the state’s budget director offered on Monday more evidence of the pandemic’s toll on the economy.

Budget Director Dan Haug said net general revenue collections for March dropped 4.2 percent compared with March 2019. Even though there was no statewide stay-at-home order until Monday, several jurisdictions had already issued their own orders and restrictions were placed on gathering sizes.

State lawmakers are scheduled to convene Tuesday and Wednesday. Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, needs their approval to spend what could amount to billions of dollars in federal funding for medical supplies, local governments, schools and other services to fight the virus.

Senate Republican leaders urged those interested in the proceedings to watch or listen online, rather than in person, to maintain social distancing.

Missouri’s health department cited 355 new confirmed cases Monday, bringing the state’s total to 2,722. St. Louis County alone has now topped 1,000 confirmed cases.

The state updated the number of deaths to 39, five more than on Sunday. However, a database operated by Johns Hopkins University shows 47 deaths in Missouri. The discrepancy could be because Missouri had not required that coronavirus deaths be reported within 24 hours until it changed that policy as of Sunday.

Dr. Alex Garza, head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, said Monday that 545 patients have been hospitalized in the St. Louis area, including 224 in intensive care units, with 172 on ventilators. The patients have either tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, or are showing symptoms and awaiting test results.

Garza said the number of hospitalized patients is expected to peak in two to three weeks.

“The next couple of weeks are going to be extremely difficult for the St. Louis region,” Garza said.

Most infected people develop mild or moderate coronavirus symptoms that clear up within three weeks, such as fever and cough. But older adults and people with existing health problems are particularly susceptible to more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The University of Missouri in Columbia said all summer classes will be online only. All courses normally offered in the summer will be available through remote learning.

The city of St. Louis opened a temporary shelter for the homeless, and everyone staying there will undergo a health screening before being admitted. The city is leasing a former nursing home for the shelter.

A suburban St. Louis school district suspended food deliveries to students through this week after the deaths of two bus drivers — one of whom tested positive for the coronavirus and another who had an unrelated illness but showed symptoms of the virus prior to his death.

Ferguson-Florissant Schools Superintendent Joseph Davis said a staff member at the district’s McCluer North High School also tested positive for the coronavirus. Davis said it had been more than 14 days since any of the three employees worked.

Schools have been closed in the St. Louis region since mid-March, but many districts continue to provide breakfast and lunch for needy students.

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