CITY HALL – Businesses in many Missouri counties reopened Monday as Gov. Mike Parson lifted the state stay-at-home order; but St. Louis and other areas with many coronavirus cases are holding out for at least a few more weeks.
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson reported Monday in her live-streamed Facebook press conference that the city had tallied 154 new cases over the weekend, for a total of 1,345, with the death toll at 70. St. Louis County has had a total of 3,521 cases.
“We continue to have the majority of the cases right here in the St. Louis region,” Krewson noted. And, she said, “We continue to have a community spread.”
Here’s the good news: “We do believe that we have hit the peak,” the mayor said. “We are heading down the other side of that curve – not very rapidly, I might add, but we are heading down the other side of that curve.”
As of Monday, 653 coronavirus patients were hospitalized in the area, down from 660 the day before; the number of ICU patients hit 164, up from 158; and 110 people were on ventilators.
Krewson said she understood area residents’ impatience to get back to some kind of normal life.
“My own patience is wearing thin,” she acknowledged.
She promised that the city and county were working together to settle on a plan for gradual reopening of businesses. Officials expect to present at least a preliminary plan by the end of this week, she said, with a start date in mid-May if all goes well.
Coronavirus cases are actually going up right now as more testing is being done, and medical experts warn of an uptick as “normal” life resumes.
Krewson pleaded with people to continue social distancing anywhere they might meet others, for instance when shopping – and she conveyed a message from Metro asking its bus and train passengers to wear face masks.Meanwhile Monday, the tent city that had sprawled across the parks along Market Street near City Hall had been removed.
At 7 a.m., the tents and nearly all the piles of debris were gone. Scatters of litter, a mound of clothing and two men sleeping on cots were all that was left of the homeless encampment that had worried advocates and health officials for the past several weeks.
“This weekend was a major effort,” Krewson said. She reported that 61 people had been taken from the tents to various shelters, this on top of the 40-some who had accepted shelter the week before. She said the city had added 230 new beds since the coronavirus. Some of those replace beds that regular shelters have had to cut in order to keep better distance among people in their rooms.
The ultimate goal is to get people into apartments, but first they need medical attention, job training and aid, mental health services and more. Caseworkers will work with the people, Krewson explained. She praised the outreach volunteers who, she acknowledged, work with the homeless year-round.
The parks that housed the tent city are closed for restoration, which will involve extra cleaning as well as turf renewal.
Krewson addressed one burdensome aspect of the city’s outreach to homeless people: “A lot of the folks that we are trying to help and we want to continue to help are not from the city of St. Louis.” She said that she herself had talked at the tent city with homeless Missourians from St. Louis County, Wentzville, Valley Park and Springfield; and from Effingham and Peoria in Illinois.
“People come here because they know there are services here,” she said, adding that the city was “looking for help” from other cities and counties.
Krewson explained that under the CARES Act, the county had received $174 million directly from the federal government, because it has a population of more than 500,000 people. The city, on the other hand, has to wait for the state to disburse the expected $34 million in funds.
She also pointed out that the county’s share came to about $175 per person; St. Louis’ share comes to $117 per person, and the city wants more.
To put the COVID-19 toll in perspective, Krewson cited a sobering figure: The virus has killed 67,000 people in the U.S. so far – more than in whole Vietnam War.