ST. LOUIS (AP) — A year after Missouri confirmed its first COVID-19 infection, local governments are continuing to relax coronavirus restrictions as the number of cases in the state declines and vaccinations efforts expand.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson and St. Louis County Executive Sam Page announced the state’s first case on March 7, 2020 — a woman from St. Louis County who had recently returned after studying in Italy.
“Since COVID-19 struck Missouri one year ago, we have worked nonstop to take a balanced approach, fight the virus, and keep Missourians as safe as possible,” Parson said in a statement Monday. “A tremendous amount of work has been accomplished over the past 12 months, and I could not be more proud of Missourians for their efforts.”
Page announced Monday that several health orders prompted by COVID-19 would be eased, effective immediately. Those include increasing public gathering limits to 20 from 10 people and allowing businesses to stay open until midnight.
Also Monday, the Cape Girardeau County Commission voted unanimously to rescind the county’s mask mandate, effective immediately, and replace it with a statement saying wearing masks is “highly recommended” to help control the spread of COVID-19. Businesses and churches will still be allowed to require masks.
Those moves come as the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services reported that more than 1 million state residents had received at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot. The department said 1,008,824 had started the vaccination process, about 16.4 percent of the state’s population. Of those, 530,264 have completed the vaccination process.
“Our team worked diligently for months to ensure we were prepared to execute our vaccine plan, which has since led us to initiating vaccinations for over one million Missourians in less than three months with an extremely limited supply,” Parson said. “This has been an incredible collaborative effort, and I want to thank all of the agencies and partners involved for their hard work and dedication.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that people continue to wear masks, avoid large gatherings, and physically distance themselves from others when out in public.
Parson released a lengthy statement detailing his administration’s response to the pandemic.
He noted the efforts resulted in hospitalizations’ falling to 989 the week of Feb. 28, a 64 percent decrease from the first week of January. And Parson said the state’s economy was showing strong signs of recovery, having recovered 70 percent of jobs lost to COVID-19. He said that put Missouri among the top tier of states for total economic recovery.
In St. Louis County, Page said the looser regulations were the result of a drop in new COVID-19 infections and an expected increase in vaccine supply.
In November, the county was averaging more than 800 newly confirmed cases a day. On Monday, 125 new confirmed cases were reported.
“Today, there is hope,” Page said.
In Cape Girardeau, Dr. John Russell, Medical Director and medical consultant with the county’s public health center, said he favored rescinding the mask mandate because 20 percent of the county’s population has been vaccinated, confirmed cases are decreasing and antibody treatments are more readily available.
Statewide, health officials reported 270 newly confirmed cases and no new deaths since Sunday. Records showed 480,913 confirmed cases and 8,161 deaths since the pandemic began.