CoronavirusNewsThe NorthSider

Navy medical team heads to St. Louis to support COVID care

A Navy team of medical specialists is scheduled to arrive in the St. Louis region next week to help a hospital strained by an increase in COVID-19 cases, authorities announced Friday.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson’s office and the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force said a team of 44 medical specialists, including doctors and nurses, will be arriving next week at Christian Hospital in north St. Louis County.

”This aid serves as a beacon of hope for us as we continue to serve our community during this unprecedented time,” said Rick Stevens, president of Christian Hospital.

The metropolitan task force submitted requests last week to the State Emergency Management Agency for federal help for 11 St. Louis-area medical facilities in response to a surge in COVID-19 cases fueled by the Omicron variant.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said it could deploy resources to only one of the hospitals, and Christian was chosen because it is in an underserved community, the task force said in a news release.

“It is hoped that by adding resources in North County other facilities will benefit as well,” said Laura High, spokeswoman for BJC HealthCare.

The federal medical team will be stationed at Christian for about 30 days.

State health department data on Friday reported that the state had a seven-day average of 3,735 people hospitalized with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases, with a seven-day average of 699 patients in intensive care.

The state announced on Friday that it had confirmed more than 1 million cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began. The 1,008,681 cases include 63,174 in the last seven days as of Thursday, with a seven-day average of 9,025, according to state data.

A 17-member federal medical team has been working with Research Hospital in Kansas City since Jan. 7 and will continue to assist through Feb. 4, the governor’s office said. And two teams with the federal AmeriCorps organization are helping at testing sites in St. Louis, St. Charles, Springfield and the Kansas City area.

Lawsuits target school mask mandates

The announcement of federal help came on the same day that Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt sued 36 school districts in the state that are requiring students to wear masks. He was joined in the lawsuit by a total of 76 parents.

“It’s time to give the power back to parents and families to make these decisions themselves,” Schmitt said on social media.

Schmitt, a Republican who is running for the U.S. Senate, initially threatened to sue school districts over mask mandates in December, prompting some districts to drop or modify their mandates while others insisted Schmitt did not have the authority to override decisions made by locally elected officials.

Schmitt has cited a ruling in November from a Cole County judge that school districts and local health agencies do not have the authority under state law to impose health orders.

He did not mention that ruling in the lawsuits filed Friday against districts across the state, including Kansas City, Columbia, Waynesville, Liberty, Affton, Rockwood and others. He argued the state Legislature must authorize school districts to enact public health orders and lawmakers have not done so.

“School districts do not have the authority to impose, at their whim, public health orders for their schoolchildren,” according to language contained in the lawsuits. “That is doubly true when the public health order, in this case, facemasks, creates a barrier to education that far outweighs any speculative benefit.”

The state said Thursday that 62 districts had closed for one or two days in January, largely because of staff shortages and high student absences due to the increase in COVID-19 cases.

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