Facing a deadline for using federal coronavirus relief funds or returning the money, some Missouri counties are offering grants to support small businesses struggling to keep their doors open.
Those efforts come as the state approaches 100,000 new COVID-19 infections for the month, more than 40,000 more than were reported in October, which until November had seen the most cases of any month in the pandemic.
Last week, St. Louis County announced it would use $3 million to provide grants of $5,000 to businesses with 25 or fewer employees to pay expenses like rent and payroll. Restaurants can receive a grant of up to $5,000 to cover costs that could include setting up outdoor dining with heaters and tents or to provide curbside service.
On Tuesday, Columbia announced it would use $495,000 of Boone County’s CARES Act funding to provide grants of up to $10,000 for businesses with 49 or fewer workers. The funding will be targeted to businesses struggling with interruptions in operations due to the impact of the pandemic.
Also on Tuesday, Gov. Mike Parson announced that the state had established a website, MOStopsCOVID.com, to keep residents informed about the progress of vaccine distribution and how they can prepare to be inoculated.
As Missourians prepare for what will be, for many, a pared-back Thanksgiving celebration, the state continues to see high daily case counts. The 4,131 new coronavirus infections reported Wednesday brings the total for the month to 99,606, an average of 3,984 each day.
During October, the state Department of Health and Senior Services reported 57,073 COVID-19 cases, an average of 1,841 per day.
There was at least one new case in 111 of 117 local health jurisdictions reported Wednesday. There have been new cases in every local health jurisdiction so far this month, with the fewest, 31, in Worth County, which has a population of 2,013, and the most, 14,341, in St. Louis County, which has 994,205 people.
The highest per-capita infection rates so far this month, all with more than 30 cases per 1,000 people, are in Cole, Perry, Moniteau, Holt and Gentry counties. The lowest infection rates, with seven or fewer cases per 1,000 residents, are in Platte, McDonald, Ozark, Clay and Wright counties.
There were 26 additional deaths reported Wednesday, bringing Missouri’s total for the pandemic to 3,776.
CARES Act funding, from a bill passed by Congress in March that also included stimulus checks to families, must be spent by Dec. 30 or returned to the federal treasury. St. Louis County, because it has more than 500,000 people, received funding directly from the federal government. Boone County received its funding through the state and the deadline for using it will be earlier because Parson wants to transfer unspent CARES Act funding to the state unemployment fund.
The St. Louis County business support funding is in addition to $19.7 million granted earlier this year to more than 1,600 small businesses and restaurants, the county stated in a news release. The additional funds come at the recommendation of the Economic Rescue Team, a group of volunteers appointed by County Executive Sam Page earlier this year.
Columbia has previously offered small loans and grants to businesses, some funded by local tax money. The new program will be administered by the city but available to any eligible business operating in the county.
The state vaccine website will provide information about when residents will be able to receive the vaccine and how well it works, a news release from Parson’s office stated. It is also intended to fight misinformation about the vaccines.
Among the questions answered is whether COVID-19 is a hoax.
“COVID-19 is not a hoax and neither is the vaccine,” the website states. “It is recommended by medical professionals that you consider getting vaccinated.”
The website also recommends that people who have already had COVID-19 receive the vaccine because of emerging evidence of reinfections.
“The most important thing we’ve learned about the accelerated development process is that steps have not been eliminated but are instead occurring simultaneously,” Parson said in the release. “Safety is not being sacrificed, and it’s important for Missourians to understand this.”