Missouri reports largest increase in coronavirus deaths since pandemic began

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SEATTLE, WA – FEBRUARY 29: A healthcare worker prepares to transport a patient on a stretcher into an ambulance at Life Care Center of Kirkland on February 29, 2020 in Kirkland, Washington. Dozens of staff and residents at Life Care Center of Kirkland are reportedly exhibiting coronavirus-like symptoms, with two confirmed cases of (COVID-19) associated with the nursing facility reported so far. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri’s health department on Friday cited 31 additional coronavirus deaths, the worst one-day increase since the pandemic began.

The website for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services showed 738 deaths, up from 707 on Thursday. The previous one-day high for deaths was 29 reported on April 25. The website also showed an increase of 122 new cases, bringing the total to 12,795.

533 of those deaths were reported in St. Louis and St. Louis County as of May 29, according to the Missouri COVID-19 Dashboard. That’s about 72%, or almost three-fourths of the state’s death count.

Email messages seeking comment from the health department were not immediately returned.

Republican Gov. Mike Parson allowed the state to reopen May 5, though still requiring 6-foot social distancing and, for many businesses and organizations, capacity limits indoors. On Thursday, he announced that the second phase of the plan was pushed back to June 15 from May 31.

Parson said the change was not due to a setback but out of an abundance of caution.

“We just need to be a little careful here for a little while,” Parson said at a news conference in St. Louis County.

Still, the decision followed two alarming instances that drew national attention: The emergence of photos and video showing large groups of mostly young people crowded together at Lake of the Ozarks swimming pools over the Memorial Day weekend, and the report that up to 140 clients at a Springfield Great Clips were potentially exposed by two workers who tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.

The Springfield-Greene County Health Department is testing all of the exposed Great Clips clients, and test results for the first 42 were negative, director Clay Goddard said. It wasn’t immediately clear when the remaining results would be available.

The health department announced last week that a stylist served 84 clients over eight days in mid-May while experiencing coronavirus symptoms. A co-worker also became sick and potentially exposed 56 more. The health agency said both stylists tested positive for COVID-19.

The stylists and all of their clients wore face masks, health officials said. Goddard said the negative tests so far may be evidence of the value of facial coverings.

Great Clips said in a statement Thursday that it was closing all of its Springfield salons after two threatening messages — one in a Facebook message to an employee, the other phoned to a salon.

Salons were allowed to reopen in Missouri under Parson’s May 5 order, despite concerns from some about the close proximity required for barbers and hairstylists to work with their clients.

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

Parson said he’s hopeful Missouri will see “more consistent policies” across the state by the middle of June, when phase 2 of his reopening plan is expected to begin. He has not yet announced how phase 2 will differ from phase 1.

The Kansas City and St. Louis areas continued more stringent regulations after the May 5 reopening because the vast majority of the state’s confirmed cases and deaths were in metropolitan areas, particularly in St. Louis city and county. Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas recently announced more relaxed restrictions heading into June.

READ: Missouri restrictions take over, but Mayor Lucas says Kansas City won’t enforce state rules

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