CITY HALL – Coronavirus cases are still on the upswing in St. Louis and the region, but social distancing is flattening the curve “a bit,” Mayor Lyda Krewson said Wednesday.
So how long will this pandemic keep us at home and out of work? Don’t hold your breath for a quick or easy end.
The city’s “stay at home” order was scheduled to end April 22, but it – along with St. Louis County’s – is going to be extended.
“I can say with confidence that it will not end on April 22,” Krewson asserted in a livestreamed press conference on Facebook. She couldn’t give a new potential end date but said the decision would be guided by scientific data and health experts. The city and county are working together on a new date, she said, and they hope to come to a decision in the next couple of days.
Krewson cited the latest figures: “In the city of St. Louis alone, 723 cases positive; in St. Louis County, 1,850 cases positive; and in the state of Missouri, 4,700 – I’m using round numbers.” The death toll is at 26 in St. Louis; 58 in the county; and 133 in Missouri as a whole.
As she has in every such address, she thanked the “95-plus percent” of people who are staying home, hand-washing and social distancing.
“It is paying off a bit,” Krewson said, gesturing with finger and thumb a bit apart – but the number of cases is still rising.
“We are not flattening the curve enough that we can risk going back to our old ways,” she warned, with the threat of a second wave of the virus lurking.
The latest estimate of the virus’ peak in the St. Louis area is April 23-25.
Krewson acknowledged that many people had lost jobs or had work hours cut. “We have to put public health ahead of the economy, but both are devastating to us.”
When a watcher asked how the city could justify continuing the stay-at-home order when so many people were suffering economically, she seemed for a moment to veer from that subject.
The city’s morgue is bigger than the county’s, she said. Plus, we’ll have refrigerated trucks to store bodies.
Planning for the dead – that’s what officials are dealing with right now.
“That’s the seriousness of COVID-19, and that’s why we can’t send everyone back to work right now. I surely wish we could,” she added.
She urged those of us who have lost our jobs to apply for unemployment; and she said the $1,200 federal stimulus money was on its way.
“It’s a help; it doesn’t replace a paycheck,” she agreed, and said the hope was that people would use the stimulus money immediately for shelter, food and medical needs.
Answering another online question, she said that whatever the new stay-at-home date, all other emergency health orders would automatically be extended, too.
To a watcher who asked whether the 10-people-or-less curb on funeral gatherings could be lifted, Krewson responded, “If we could relax that, and do it safely, we would.” She pointed out that typically, people at funerals included older, vulnerable people. And she noted that the city had several cases in which infected people may have contracted the coronavirus at a funeral.
“As hard as that is, it’s for everyone’s safety,” Krewson stressed.
So far, the city hasn’t had enough kits to test all the people it needs to. In addition to testing whether a person has the coronavirus, some people may be found to have been infected but recovered. They may be deemed safe to go back to work and other public situations.
“We need testing in a major way, to figure out what our new normal is going to be,” she said.
Krewson said that Dr. Fredrick Echols, the city’s health director, reported that of the city’s positive tests so far, 71 percent were in African-Americans; all but four or five of the city’s deaths have been of blacks.
Data on the race, age and gender of each case is being compiled now, and the city will release it as soon as it’s in a good enough format to be comprehensible, the mayor said.
In the meantime, workers from the city and the Missouri Foundation for Health are going to majority black neighborhoods to talk with residents about how to slow the virus’ spread. Testing sites are also operating throughout the city.
In other business, Krewson said, the special elections scheduled for May 19 in the Fourth and 12th Wards are being postponed. No new date has been set. Krewson criticized Missouri’s election rules, which do not allow for easy absentee voting. The only acceptable reasons for not showing up at the polls are being out of town or having a certifiable health issue that prevents a voter from going to the polls. Although the mayor said she had brought the problem up with Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, the topic is not on this year’s legislative agenda – and isn’t likely to be.
What about all the other elections coming up?
“I don’t know what the world is going to look like in August, I don’t think anyone truly does,” Krewson said, “but I do know that having these other forms of voting will make it easier for people to vote.”
Krewson again expressed her appreciation for her fellow residents of the city. She said she was “thankful for the good hearts of the people of St. Louis, even though it’s hard on them.”