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City clamps down on bars cited for flouting COVID-19 rules

ST. LOUIS – The city is cracking down on establishments accused of violating restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, including one-year suspensions for three bars.

The city notified seven establishments that they must close this week, citing violations for face covering and social distancing. Four were shut down for 30 days, but two popular bars near Busch Stadium — Start Bar and The Wheelhouse — were shut down for a full year, as was the Midtown Bar & Grill.

The shutdowns drew an angry response from the operators, customers and some lawmakers.

“The City of St. Louis has issued The Wheelhouse and Start Bar a one year business closure for refusing to treat you like children,” read a statement on Wheelhouse’s Instagram site.

The closures prompted a request for acting St. Louis Health Director Dr. Fredrick Echols to explain the reasoning for the closures to a state panel. State Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O’Fallon, posted on Facebook his letter asking Echols to appear Tuesday before the Special Committee on Small Business.

It wasn’t immediately clear if Echols planned to do so. A message left with his spokeswoman was not immediately returned.

Meanwhile, Missouri is moving to vaccinate more people. Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, announced this week plans for mass vaccination sites across the state. The first of those sites opened Friday in the southeastern Missouri town of Poplar Bluff.

The Poplar Bluff site was set up on a parking lot. Shots are administered while people stay in their vehicles. State officials say the sites will be able to administer about 2,500 doses per day. The National Guard is assisting with their operation.

Even as residents get vaccinations, testing for the coronavirus is ongoing — and the number of positive tests may be higher than Missouri’s health department is reporting.

The health department doesn’t include antigen tests in its count of COVID-19 cases, meaning that tens of thousands of positive tests have not been included in the state’s tally.

Data from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services show that antigen tests found 20,083 cases of the coronavirus in December alone, and 12,228 in January through Tuesday.

Missouri’s virus tracking dashboard on Friday showed 445,621 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Though that total doesn’t include antigen tests, the same dashboard separately lists details about each type of testing. It shows that 64,685 Missourians have tested positive through antigen tests, also known as rapid tests.

Antigen testing has increased in popularity in recent months. For the week of Jan. 10, the dashboard shows that 53,243 of the 164,282 tests administered were antigen tests.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines require all confirmed and probable cases to be reported. Since August, the CDC has included positive antigen test results in its definition of “probable” cases.

State health department spokeswoman Lisa Cox confirmed in an email that Missouri did not list probable cases, only confirmed cases of the virus. She noted that states “are reporting differently across the map” and said that Missouri was awaiting “clear CDC guidance.”

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