Hard-hit St. Louis metro to start reopening May 18

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EAST ST LOUIS, IL – JUNE 6: The St. Louis skyline is seen as the Mississippi River swells on June 6, 2019 in East St. Louis, Illinois. Residents along the Mississippi River are bracing for the expected arrival of the crest at near-record levels on Friday. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)

ST. LOUIS, Mo. — St. Louis and St. Louis County will both begin easing stay-at-home orders starting later this month, but officials caution that the process will be slow for the area of Missouri most ravaged by the coronavirus.

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson and St. Louis County Executive Sam Page both announced late Tuesday that public health restrictions would be reduced starting May 18. Page said Wednesday that the reopening process will be driven by metrics like hospitalizations, ventilator usage and rises or falls in confirmed cases.

“We have to move forward in a responsible manner,” Page said. “If we move too quickly, we know what can happen. We can have a second wave, and it can be much worse than the first wave.”

The St. Louis metro, including St. Charles County, has accounted for the majority of the cases and deaths in Missouri. Out of nearly 80 long term care facilities in the state dealing with coronavirus outbreaks, 67 were in the St. Louis metro.

The city and county are coordinating their plans, and Page and Krewson said details will be released soon. But Page said the plan will include a recommendation that workers wear masks “and we will request everyone out in public wear masks, especially when social distancing measures, being at least 6 feet away from someone else, can’t be easily followed.”

The mayors of 25 St. Louis County municipalities want those details immediately. On Tuesday, they presented a resolution asking the county council to publish plans for emerging from the lockdown.

Ellisville Mayor Mike Roemerman said in a statement that “citizens are struggling with the indefinite timelines and lack of details for a reopening plan when the rest of Missouri was in the midst of reopening under viable plans.”

Businesses across most of the rest of the state reopened Monday after Gov. Mike Parson’s stay-at-home order ended, even though confirmed cases of COVID-19, the illnesses caused by the coronavirus, continue to rise. The state health department said Tuesday that Missouri has had 8,916 confirmed cases, 162 more than Monday, and deaths rose by 19 to 377.

St. Louis city and county began shutdown orders before the state, and kept them going longer, because the region has been the epicenter of the virus in Missouri. About two-thirds of all confirmed cases, and about half the deaths, have occurred in the city and county combined.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher than the number of confirmed cases because many people have not been tested and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick.

Kansas City began phasing in its reopening on Wednesday, but with very strict rules on social distancing and crowd sizes. Jackson County’s order ends at 11:59 p.m on Sunday. Other counties neighboring both Kansas City and St. Louis reopened Monday.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up after two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The Missouri State Emergency Management Agency has ordered more than $42 million of personal protective equipment and medical supplies since the pandemic began, according to data compiled for The Associated Press. The purchases are on behalf of SEMA, the state health and mental health departments, the Missouri Veterans Commission and for police and fire departments across the state.

The data provided to the AP show that through Tuesday those orders included $15.4 million to buy 4.6 million gowns, $9 million for 11.3 million N95 masks, $7 million for 14.6 million surgical masks and $6.4 million for 1.8 million face shields. SEMA said the agency was unable to break down the exact quantity of supplies and dollar amount ordered from each particular vendor.

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