The plan to reopen businesses after expiration of the state stay-at-home order will allow personal care businesses such as hair salons and gyms to operate, Gov. Mike Parson said Friday.
Parson outlined his plans for re-opening businesses as the COVID-19 pandemic eases and relaxing restrictions after the expiration of the state stay-at-home order on May 3.
He spoke as case numbers increased around meat packing facilities in the state and a prison in southeast Missouri.
While full details on the re-opening will come next week, Parson said he expects those businesses to re-open along with others across the state.
"While we gradually reopen the economy during this first phase of our plan, it will still be important to maintain certain measures of social distancing to protect both ourselves and others," Parson said.
Asked how businesses where personal contact is necessary can operate, Parson said the guidelines will address what protective gear is needed but leave much to the discretion of the owners.
"I don't think you are going to need government to regulate everything about how you run your business," Parson said.
Parson spoke soon after the state daily report of new coronavirus infections showed its largest increase in infections since April 7, with the Department of Health and Senior Services logging 304 new cases.
A portion of that, Director Randall Williams said during Parson’s daily briefing, is due to a large commercial lab that delayed reporting results for 10 days.
Another large part of the increase, however, was the 58 new cases logged for Saline County in central Missouri, which now has an infection rate nearly double any other county and six times the state average. The county had 139 cases on the state report, which is still below the 144 positive tests reported Friday morning by Fitzgibbon Hospital in Marshall.
Overall, the state has reported 6,625 coronavirus infections since the first was discovered March 7. The number of deaths also increased dramatically on Friday, by 44 to 262, which is also due to delayed reporting, Williams said.
Moniteau County is another central Missouri jurisdiction with rising infection counts. The county health center indicates there are 46 active cases of COVID-19, including 13 probable cases, which are people who are showing symptoms of the disease and have come into contact with a known case of COVID-19.
The state report shows 35 cases in Moniteau County on Friday, but cases are not included into the state total until they are confirmed via test.
Moniteau County Presiding Commissioner Mac Finley said some presumptive cases haven’t received testing both due to the high likelihood they have the disease and the local hurdles to administering tests. Although a local clinic has begun administering tests locally, samples still need to be processed in Jefferson City.
Both Saline and Moniteau counties have been running a steady race against local outbreaks of COVID-19, which are tied to local meat packing plants.
Parson announced Thursday the counties will receive equipment to offer widespread testing to employees of the affected plants. But local leaders are still unclear about what sort of support local departments will receive to run faster testing.
The move is part of the governor’s "boxing in" strategy, which will target testing to areas with local outbreaks even as the rest of the state eyes an economic reopening in incoming weeks.
"We want to take every safety precaution we can for the people that work in those plants because we have to make sure those food lines are open," Parson said Friday.
Williams said the testing in Moniteau and Saline would come next week, following deployment of a mass testing effort at the Triumph Foods plant in St. Joseph, where the St. Joseph News-Press is reporting that there are 16 positive cases among 2,800 tests conducted.
Not all results from St. Joseph are in, Williams said.
"We are looking at all our meatpacking plants," Williams said. "I was on the phone today to people in Moniteau County and Saline County. We will be going in next week and doing similar things."
The state-supplied testing apparatus could help. Moniteau County Health Center Environmental Specialist Darrell Hendrickson said he got word the department will receive testing equipment that will return results within 15 minutes.
He previously told the Tribune that faster testing would increase the county’s ability to combat the virus.
An ideal situation, he said, would be "having a test that would be a quick turnaround … where we could have a testing instrument at multiple locations so we could test everybody at a given plant and get the results back in five, ten, twenty minutes."
But now that faster testing is on its way, Hendrickson has a list of other concerns.
"There seems to be some confusion on who’s going to run it," he said. "How are we going to pull this off? You going to send us people? What comes along with it?"
The county is not stocked with the appropriate personal protective equipment to administer widespread testing. Not only that, but if it receives a positive test every 15 minutes, that will exponentially increase the county’s contact tracing caseload.
"Which means I exponentially have to increase my activities as far as investigating and counseling," he said.
The prison outbreak is in Charleston, where the Department of Corrections issued a news release that 19 prisoners at the Southeast Missouri Correctional Center had tested positive for the coronavirus.
The new cases were in addition to three offenders who tested positive earlier in the week and comes after three corrections officers at the facility tested positive earlier this month.
In recent days, Williams has said the state has increased its testing capacity to respond to outbreaks like the Charleston prison or Saline County.
On Friday, the first evidence of that strategy became apparent in state testing numbers. The state reported the results of 7,751 tests over two days, nearly as many as had been reported in the past seven days combined.
The impact of the pandemic is economic as well as medical, and the medical economy is taking a hit as well.
The COVID-19 strain on hospitals and medical providers has resulted in an overburdened system in some places and an economic strain in other places caused by canceling other appointments and procedures.
Children’s Mercy hospital in Kansas City is furloughing nearly 600 employees for up to two months. The furloughs will begin Sunday, the Kansas City Star reported, and even top executives will see a pay cut.
That cut ranges from 20% for hospital vice presidents to 30% for CEO Paul Kempinski.
It is the first action at an urban hospital to reduce staff. The Putnam County Memorial Hospital on the Iowa border recently furloughed one-quarter of its staff and put the remaining employes on a 32-hour week.
The virus has led to a significant drop in patients coming in for other ailments, as elective procedures were suspended and outpatient clinic visits limited last month to prepare for a surge in COVID-19, Kempinski said. That’s costing the hospital net revenue of about $1 million a day.
"COVID-19 is having a crushing, negative impact on patient care access, our employees and our financial performance," Kempinski said.
The hospital had already taken several cost-saving measures. It eliminated more than 200 vacant positions and suspended most of its capital spending.
Being furloughed allows employees to file for unemployment benefits, Kempinski said, and the hospital will continue to pay their health insurance premiums.
As of Friday, the U.S. had more than 890,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, up about 34,000 since Thursday afternoon.
The contagion is blamed for 51,107 deaths in the United States.
Worldwide, the virus is known to have infected almost 2.8 million people and is blamed for more than 195,920 deaths.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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