CITY HALL – “Today is exactly 30 days from the day the city received its first case of positive COVID-19.” And now’s not the time to lift the ‘stay at home’ order.
That was Mayor Lyda Krewson’s introduction to her livestream Thursday on Facebook.
“I recognize that these decisions and orders have been very disruptive for folks, inconvenient for folks, and frankly downright devastating for businesses and for our workers,” she said somberly, adding, “All of your sacrifices are very much appreciated.”
She said that Dr. Alex Garza, head of the new St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, had told her that health orders were helping – “There’s evidence that we’re making progress, bending the curve a bit” – but that the area had not yet arrived at the peak of coronavirus cases.
So, Krewson said, after consulting with local health care experts, “We have decided to extend the ‘stay at home’ order.”
“This remains a very fluid situation,” she said, “So we’re not setting an end date. But we are saying to you that within a few weeks, at least by mid-May, we hope to reevaluate this situation.”
The new order is largely an extension of the first, but there are two new elements: 1) everyone must wear a mask in public, and 2) essential businesses must provide personal protection equipment for its employees as appropriate to their jobs.
Krewson said that even as officials tackle the immediate crisis, they were trying to plan for the future.
“We are beginning to think about, ‘What will it look like? How will businesses be able to be turned back on?’…. We’re thinking about it, just as everyone is.”
Dr. Fredrick Echols, the city’s health director, spoke next. He reported that the city had 762 positive cases as of Thursday morning. He extended sympathy to the families of people lost to the virus; so far, 27 have died.
Echols commended all the people abiding by the orders, but he acknowledged that unfortunately not all people were. He said they endangered themselves and the rest of us.
Of the 762 cases, he said, more than 70 percent of the people are black and living in areas of poverty. “The plight is not new, but our strategies have to be” to make sure this situation changes, he emphasized.
“We have to be consistent, intentional and strategic in addressing the systemic issues that have led us to where we are.”
Thirty-one city employees have tested positive; most exposures have happened among the public, Echols said.
More testing sites are being opened, with 40-50 people being tested at each site; testing allows health experts to identify populations and areas most at risk, and guide how to direct resources.
Looking ahead, Echols said, in the next 6-9 months, officials have to be careful about how lifting the health orders, or a new wave of the virus could strike. If so, “we’ll be backtracking,” Echols warned.
He said he recognized the significant economic impact social distancing but stated: “At the heart of what we do, we’re charged with saving lives.”
“This is a community-wide response, and by engaging the community and charging the community to do their part, that’s the only way we’ll get through this assessment.”
A questioner asked Krewson about the order designating some businesses, such as hair salons as nonessential and therefore forced to close. Some businesses may not survive.
Echols returned to the microphone to address this: “If people are dead, they have no economic recovery.”
Krewson wrapped up the session by reassuring people that officials and health experts were evaluating the situation continually and would make a new decision by May 15.
She added: “When I was sworn in as mayor, which will be three years ago tomorrow, I never in my wildest dreams imaged we’d be dealing with a pandemic. … We’re all learning.”