St. Louis County bans indoor dining as COVID growth continues unchecked

    BRIEF

    St. Louis County will ban indoor dining at restaurants, and Cole County wants people who test positive for COVID-19 to do their own contact tracing, as case tallies and hospitalizations continue to soar across Missouri.

    St. Louis County has added 6,187 new cases so far in November, according to data posted Friday morning by the state Department of Health and Senior Services. That is more than any full month except July, when the state agency reported 6,320 new cases in the county.

    St. Louis County Executive Sam Page

    St. Louis County Executive Sam Page announced on Friday morning that new restrictions will take effect Tuesday.

    “We are here in part because of virus fatigue,” Page said. “People tell me they are done with this virus but this virus is not done with us.”

    The decision is one of many being made across the state. The University of Missouri reversed an earlier decision and will now tell students to stay home after Thanksgiving and finish the semester online. Boone County will get word on restrictions on Friday afternoon as officials update existing health orders set to expire Wednesday.

    Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said this week that he, too, is weighing whether more restrictions are needed to combat COVID’s spread.

    In the new St. Louis County orders, residents are asked to stay home except for essential business and necessities and to limit themselves to a “social bubble” of 10 people, including friends and family. Businesses will be limited to serving 25 percent of their fire-rated capacity, down from 50 percent.

    Face masks will be required for everyone older than 6 years when outside of their home, including at gyms and outdoor activities. And because contact tracers are so far behind, people who test positive are asked to isolate for 10 days and to tell everyone they have been in contact with so they can quarantine for 14 days.

    A close contact is defined as anyone who was within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more over a 24 hour period.

    “It is going to be very difficult moving forward for the next several months until we get a vaccine,” Page said.

    The state health department reported 4,005 new cases statewide Friday, the fourth consecutive day of more than 4,000 new cases and the sixth time in the past seven days with that number. The department has reported nine consecutive days of more than 3,000 cases; Missouri had more than 3,000 cases for the first time on Oct. 29.

    The seven-day averages of cases, positive rate on tests and hospitalizations are all at their highest levels of the pandemic. Over the past week, Missouri has reported an average of 4,124 a day for the past week, with the positive rate on tests at 42.7 percent and 50 local health jurisdictions showing a positive rate of more than 50 percent.

    There were 2,462 people being treated as inpatients across the state on Thursday, preliminary data shows, with the average of the past seven days 2,254. Net new hospital admissions are running above 70 per day, also the highest level seen since the state began reporting hospitalization data in March.

    Cole County, the seat of state government, will only do contact tracing for cases tied to schools, a news release issued Thursday stated. The county has recorded 1,337 new cases in November, giving it the highest per-capita infection rate of 117 local health departments at 1,742 per 100,000 residents.

    The Cole County Health Department moved to make contact tracing the responsibility of people who test positive because it is so far behind and there’s too much resistance to health department investigators, a news release stated.

    “The positive case will be expected to notify their contacts,” the department stated in the release issued Thursday. “This will eliminate the wait time and hopefully, stop people from unknowingly spreading the virus. We are also hoping that people will feel more comfortable telling their contacts about their positive result versus a stranger on the phone.”

    The news release stated that the county wants residents to take responsibility for their health.

    “Please reconsider hosting or attending gatherings that bring together people that are outside of your normal interactions, especially if physical distancing cannot be maintained,” the release stated. “These activities are high risk for transmission of the virus.”