County announces new restrictions as cases soar

Missouri’s most populous county is limiting crowd sizes, ordering bars to close early and getting tough on businesses as the number of coronavirus cases soars, complicating the start of the school year.

St. Louis County Executive Dr. Sam Page said Monday that the new restrictions would take effect at 5 p.m. Friday. The announcement came one day after the county reported 523 new positive cases for its largest single-day increase.

“This is serious,” Page said. “This will overwhelm our community. This will overwhelm our hospitals.”

Statewide, the number of cases jumped Monday by 1,123 to 43,050, with 1,201 deaths. The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

Roughly 8.8 percent of those tested for the coronavirus between July 10 and July 16 were confirmed to have it, Gov. Mike Parson said Monday.

State health department Director Randall Williams said each person sickened with the COVID-19 virus was on average infecting 1.3 other people, which shows an uptick in the virus’ spread in Missouri.

Parson said 37 staffers were working on contact tracing at the state Department of Health and Senior Services, and the agency has hired 150 more to help local agencies track the spread of the virus.

Williams urged local governments to start spending at least part of their share of the more than $500 million in federal coronavirus aid on hiring more contact tracers, too.

St. Louis County’s new restrictions, which Page warned would take three weeks to make a dent in the numbers, include limiting gatherings to no more than 50 people, rolling back the number of people allowed in businesses and closing bars starting at 10 p.m.

Page also said that people waiting for test results must quarantine and that spaces would be found for teachers to quarantine if needed. There also will be a push to ensure that health care providers are reporting their testing promptly.

Both the county and the city of St. Louis also announced plans to crack down on businesses that aren’t complying with COVID-19 rules on social distancing and mask-wearing. In the city, some bars and nightclubs will be closed for 14 days. The businesses that face a temporary shut down have already received cease and desist letters from the city’s Department of Health.

Page said he thought the school year in the county would begin with all-virtual instruction.

“Please know that we are trying to take as many steps as we can to flatten the curve and provide a safe option for our parents later this year to have an in-school in classroom setting for their students if they chose that option,” he said. “But even with these steps even with that knowledge it is my recommendation as a parent that parents who can choose a virtual option if it is available.”

But he also acknowledged that virtual learning wasn’t a good fit for many families.

“Some parents who have childcare needs and some parents who have kids with special needs,” he said. “They need that support structure and that predictability in order for their kids to be able to learn.”

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