News Briefs

White House recommends Missouri reduce restaurant capacity, urges residents to wear masks

By: - November 4, 2020 11:58 am

The deaths data, which the department calls “probable” COVID-19 fatalities, is being added eight months after the department began reporting antigen-identified infections in its daily report (image courtesy of CDC).

In a Nov. 1 report, the White House Coronavirus Task Force urged Missouri to implement stricter measures, including reducing indoor dining and always wearing a mask in public, to curb “unrelenting spread and increasing new hospital admissions” of the novel coronavirus.

Missouri was one of 11 states that fell into the “red zone” last week for all three metrics: new cases, the positivity rate and COVID-19 related deaths. Based on data through last Friday, Missouri has had 257 new COVID cases per 100,000 residents — higher than the national average of 165 cases per 100,000 residents, according to the report.

The report was obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit newsroom based in Washington, D.C. that has been publishing the task force’s weekly reports to governors. The reports are not made public.

Missouri reported 2,599 COVID-19 cases Wednesday, the seventh consecutive day the state has seen more than new 2,000 cases. According to the state’s dashboard, Missouri’s seven-day average positivity rate through Sunday was at 29.2 percent — an increase from the 21 percent it was at two weeks ago.

Until cases and the state’s positivity rate decrease, the task force recommended restaurants reduce indoor capacity to less than 50 percent and restrict the hours they’re open.

Missouri has never issued a statewide mask mandate, and the task force’s report said always wearing a mask in public and ceasing gatherings with members outside of one’s immediate household are “basic actions they should take now.”

Additionally, the report recommended the state work with universities to ensure all students — both on and off campus — are being tested weekly.

“Mitigation behaviors may be eroding in university towns,” the report cautioned.

Missouri must focus on finding and containing asymptomatic cases, and the task force recommended weekly rapid testing of targeted groups, like healthcare workers, K-12 teachers and prison staff.

About 91 percent of Missouri’s counties are experiencing “moderate or high” levels of community transmission, with 76 percent of those in the “red zone.”

Over the last three weeks, the counties of St. Louis, Jackson and St. Charles saw the highest number of new cases and represent 28.9 percent of new cases in the state, according to the report.

Gov. Mike Parson declared Missouri “fully open for business” in mid-June when he let the state’s social distancing order expire, which included lifting limits on large gatherings and capacity for some businesses.

In August, Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, recommended Parson issue a mask mandate modeled after Texas’ — requiring masks in counties with 20 or more cases.

Parson has resisted calls for a statewide mask mandate, and dismissed the notion of requiring masks in certain regions of the state to stem rising cases, such as in Missouri’s rural areas.

Hospital administrators urged Parson to implement a statewide mask mandate in a call last week, as rural hospitals described facing a “transfer crisis” because health centers in the state’s metro areas refused to take patients due to increased capacity. On Tuesday, St. Louis-based BJC HealthCare said it would delay elective procedures that require inpatient or overnight stays at four hospitals in order to prepare for an anticipated surge in COVID-19 cases.

The task force’s report credited an increase in cases, hospitalizations and deaths nationally, in part, to people moving indoors as winter sets in.

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Tessa Weinberg
Tessa Weinberg

Tessa Weinberg covered education, health care and the legislature with the Missouri Independent. She previously covered the Missouri statehouse for The Kansas City Star and The Columbia Missourian, where her reporting into social media use by the governor prompted an investigation by the Attorney General’s office. She also covered state government in Texas for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram.