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As virus cases, deaths spike, Missouri delays Phase 2 of reopening

(AP) — Missouri’s health department cited on Friday 31 additional coronavirus deaths, among the highest one-day increases reported since the pandemic began.

The website for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services showed 738 deaths, up from 707 on Thursday. The website also showed an increase of 122 new cases, bringing the total to 12,795.

Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, allowed the state to reopen May 5, though still requiring six-foot social distancing and, for many businesses and organizations, capacity limits indoors. On Thursday, he announced that the second phase of the plan was being pushed back to June 15 from May 31.

Parson said the change was not due to a setback but out of an abundance of caution.

“We just need to be a little careful here for a little while,” Parson said at a news conference in St. Louis County.

Still, the decision followed two alarming instances that drew national attention: Photos and video showing large groups of people, most of them young, crowded together at Lake of the Ozarks swimming pools over the Memorial Day weekend; and the report that up to 140 clients at a Springfield Great Clips were potentially exposed by two workers who tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.

Email messages seeking comment from the health department Friday were not immediately returned.

The Springfield-Greene County Health Department is testing all of the exposed Great Clips clients, and test results for the first 42 were negative, director Clay Goddard said. It wasn’t immediately clear when the remaining results would be available.

The health department announced last week that a stylist served 84 clients over eight days in mid-May while experiencing coronavirus symptoms. A co-worker also became sick and potentially exposed 56 more. The health agency said both stylists tested positive for COVID-19.

The stylists and all of their clients wore face masks, health officials said. Goddard said the negative tests so far might be evidence of the value of facial coverings.

Great Clips said in a statement Thursday that it was closing all of its Springfield salons after two threatening messages — one in a Facebook message to an employee, the other phoned to a salon.

Salons were allowed to reopen in Missouri under Parson’s May 5 order, despite concern from some about the close proximity required for barbers and hairstylists to work with their clients.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and can lead to death.

Parson said he was hopeful Missouri would see “more consistent policies” across the state by the middle of June, when phase 2 of his reopening plan is now expected to begin. He has not yet announced how phase 2 will differ from phase 1.

The St. Louis and Kansas City areas continued more stringent regulations after the May 5 reopening because the vast majority of the state’s confirmed cases and deaths were in metropolitan areas, particularly in St. Louis city and county.

“I’ve talked to the county executives, I’ve talked to the city mayors, and I think we’re all trying to focus to that point, where it’s not confusing for people to go from one area to the other, what you can do and what you can’t do,” Parson said. “We want to move forward now.”

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