CITY HALL – As new cases of COVID-19 climb ever upward, the city has acted to limit the number of people in private gatherings in homes and apartments.
Acting City Health Director Dr. Fredrick Echols has a cap of 10 on the number of home gatherings, such as house parties, dinners, celebrations and social events, beginning Saturday.
Echols’ order noted that more than 10 percent of those tested in St. Louis are testing positive for the disease.
Over a week, the average number of hospitalizations in the region for COVID-19 increased to more than 550 people. Ninety percent of ICU and inpatient beds in the area covered by the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force were filled.
Nationally, there were at least 1,172 new coronavirus deaths reported on Nov. 12, along with 163,402 new cases and 67,096 people hospitalized. In the previous week, there was an average of 134,078 cases per day, up 72 percent from two weeks earlier.
“The increased spread of the virus in St. Louis in St. Louis City is occurring primarily in gatherings among friends, families and neighborhoods,” Echols wrote in the order. About half of the cases are in people in their 20s and 30s.
Echols acknowledged that the city couldn’t do much to enforce the directive.
“You really can’t close a household,” Echols said. What he mainly does is try to educate people.
“If they are on a private property, they know what the requirements are,” Echols said. “Right now, there are no penalties for households, because they’re on their own private property.”
“There are many more critical issues, homicides and other violent crimes that are happening in the city,” he added.
Meanwhile, St. Louis County Executive Dr. Sam Page also announced restrictions on Friday limiting private gatherings to 10 people. In addition, indoor dining will be prohibited at restaurants, and outdoor dining will be limited to 25 percent. Businesses will be limited to 25 percent capacity, and “non-essential” businesses will stay open.
Those rules take effect on Tuesday.
In the city, there are no changes in rules for businesses, schools, institutions of higher learning and government offices.
In those places, people must wear masks or facial coverings and stay six feet away from others. Employees must use good hygiene practices, including regular handwashing. Employees should be screened before work and excluded if they’re sick. They should disinfect frequently touched surfaces.
That’s what many St. Louis businesses already are doing.
“As a business owner, I think it’s been hard enough as it is,” said Martin Casas, owner of Apotheosis Comics and Lounge, 3206 S. Grand Blvd.
Apotheosis limits the number of people in the store, encourages the use of hand sanitizer and has a takeout window.
The business hasn’t had any cases since the crisis started, Casas said.
“The only thing we require is that they socially distance and wear a mask,” said Cherri Elder at Elder’s Antiques, 2124 Cherokee St. Otherwise, people are on their own, Elder said.
The 10-person limit on private gatherings was recommended by the city Joint Board of Health and Hospitals at a special meeting on Thursday.
That advisory board also recommended that the health department take steps to reach out to city residents who are refugees to make sure they understand rules meant to stop the spread of COVID-19.
It may be hard for them to understand why they shouldn’t have large groups of extended family, friends and compatriots in a home, board members said.
“You’re literally telling them to stop life the way they know it,” board member Cyril D. Loum said.
In the nation at large, President Donald Trump has publicly disengaged from the battle against the coronavirus even as is tears across the United States at an alarming pace.
Trump, fresh off his reelection loss to President-elect Joe Biden, remains angry that an announcement about progress in developing a vaccine for the disease came after Election Day. And aides say the president has shown little interest in the growing crisis even as new confirmed cases are skyrocketing and hospital intensive care units in parts of the country are nearing capacity. The U.S. just set a new record with 150,000 new cases, according to the Covid Tracking Project.
“Additional action” will have to be taken, health officials warn.
Biden, for his part, largely framed the election as a referendum on Trump’s handling of the pandemic. He has made addressing the virus his top priority as he moves forward with his transition. He spoke by phone Thursday with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer about the intensifying pandemic and prospects for passage of a COVID-19 relief bill in the lame duck session of Congress.
Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris met virtually with his new coronavirus advisers this week, and Biden delivered remarks warning Americans that ’’the challenge before us right now is still immense and growing.”
“We could save tens of thousands of lives if everyone would just wear a mask for the next few months. Not Democratic or Republican lives, American lives,” Biden said in a speech this week. “Please, I implore you, wear a mask.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.