Virus testing focuses on long-term care facilities

LIBERTY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri is expanding coronavirus testing to high-risk places where people are in close contact, with an emphasis on long-term care facilities, Gov. Mike Parson said Monday.

Parson, a Republican, said he had directed agency heads to “get better” at testing so the state can respond to specific sectors of the population that are under threat of exposure.

The governor said 163 care facilities had had at least one known case of the coronavirus, including 91 that reported at least one case within the past two weeks. He said 41 of the 91 had undergone facility-wide testing and that the state would work with the others this week to test all residents and staff.

“The one thing that we are going to continue to do, and I am going to continue to push my directors and everybody in the state of Missouri as much as I can, we are going to have to get better every day at testing, and we are going to have to do more and more testing,” Parson said.

The emphasis on testing comes as the gradual reopening of Missouri’s economy continued Monday, with restaurants and most nonessential businesses opening in St. Louis and St. Louis County.

Parson, St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson and St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said controlling the spread of the virus and boosting the economy would ultimately depend on residents’ following the safety guidelines.

Page said the reopening of businesses should not be considered a victory because too many people had died and too many families were suffering because of the pandemic. Health officials say 335 people have died from COVID-19 in St. Louis County.

“So we cannot let this gradual and thoughtful reopening be looked at as a return to normal. It’s really far from it,” Page said.

Most Missouri businesses were allowed to reopen May 4, when Parson’s stay-at-home order expired. But Page and Krewson, both Democrats, extended their orders through Sunday because a majority of the state’s confirmed cases and deaths had occurred in that region.

Gyms in St. Louis County are still prohibited from opening because the risk of transmitting the coronavirus is considered too high. A lawsuit filed by the county seeking to shut down two House of Pain gyms that reopened earlier this month in defiance of the county’s order will be considered by a federal judge. A hearing on the dispute scheduled in county court Monday was postponed when the attorney for House of Pain said he was taking the case to federal court, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Campgrounds and other high-traffic areas in the state’s park system also reopened Monday, although only for those with prior reservations. The parks system will begin taking reservations Monday for dates beginning next March 26. Campers will encounter a new cashless, self-check-in system; and some areas will limit occupancy.

Beaches at state parks are scheduled to open Thursday.

While most universities and colleges in Missouri are still considering how and when to reopen, two smaller colleges said they planned to have on-campus classes in the fall.

Harris-Stowe State University in St. Louis, and Central Methodist University in Fayette, Mo., both announced they would implement new safety measures to ensure the safety of students, faculty and staff when they return to campus.

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