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New Missouri law expands absentee voting during pandemic

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signed into law on Thursday a bill that will allow people to vote by mail this year if they’re concerned about the coronavirus.

Voters currently can request absentee ballots only if they provide an excuse for why they can’t vote in person. Illness is one option, but the law isn’t explicit on whether the illness excuse covers healthy voters concerned about catching or spreading COVID-19.

Under the new law, people considered at risk of the coronavirus — those age 65 and older, living in a long-term care facility or with certain existing health problems — could vote absentee without needing to have their ballot notarized. Anyone else could cast a mail-in ballot but would need to get it notarized.

“Any Missourian affected by COVID-19 should still be able to vote, including those who are sick or considered at-risk,” Parson said in a statement.

The law expires at the end of this year.

Also on Thursday, Parson said there had been no new reported outbreaks of the coronavirus at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities for two days.

But 13 inmates at the jail in Saline County have tested positive, Sheriff Cindi Mullins said. Only one of the inmates who tested positive reported symptoms, Mullins said. No staff members tested positive, KMIZ reported.

Statewide reported cases of COVID-19 reached 14,057 Thursday, up 290 cases from the day before. At least 786 people in Missouri have died from the virus.

For most people, the 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.

Parson said the state sent 1,400 vials of the experimental drug remdesivir to hospitals Thursday. The drug is the only treatment that’s been shown in a rigorous experiment to help fight the coronavirus.

While Parson has been signaling progress in the state’s efforts to fight the coronavirus, he said civic leaders had raised concerns about a potential spike in cases, particularly among African-Americans, after recent large protests throughout the state against police brutality.

The virus has hit black Missourians disproportionately hard. The St. Louis County Council unanimously passed on Tuesday a resolution acknowledging the impact on black residents. The resolution lists strategies that could help, including widespread testing and more preventative health care to address other illness that might put black people at higher risk of getting sicker from COVID-19.

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