After two weeks of almost unending pressure from medical providers, local health departments and his main rival in November, Gov. Mike Parson issued a statewide stay-at-home order Friday.
The decision comes as Parson’s previous order mandating social distancing was set to expire on Monday, and as he watched the state add more than 1,000 new COVID-19 cases in four days.
Missouri’s COVID-19 case count recorded its fourth day of more than 250 new infections and the number of total cases rose to 2,113 on Friday.
The new order sets limits on the number of people who can be in any business location allowed to remain open. Parson called it tougher than any of the 43 local stay-at-home orders issued by cities and counties since the pandemic arrived in Missouri.
"What we have seen and what the medical experts have told us, is that in some instances, the essential businesses have become hotbeds for transmission as people flock to those locations and were spreading the virus even further," Parson said.
Parson made the announcement at his daily briefing. He took no questions from reporters and left the podium immediately after issuing the order.
The contagion has now spread to 76 of the state's 117 reporting local health jurisdictions.
The largest outbreaks of COVID-19 continue to be in the state's urban areas. St. Louis County as of Friday had almost 800 cases, with another 275 in the city of St. Louis. On the western side of the state, Kansas City reported 153 infections and Jackson County outside Kansas City had 120 more.
Boone County, with 74 cases on the state report and 69 cases in the county health department count, has the most infections outside the largest metropolitan areas, followed by Greene County with 60 and Johnson County with 28.
Only four days ago, as Missouri recorded its first day with more than 250 new coronavirus infections, Parson chided State Auditor Nicole Galloway for issuing a call for the action he took Friday
Parson said "the state auditor needs to worry about being the state auditor right now ... This is not the time to play politics out of this issue ..."
The order is overdue but necessary to support the health care system as the virus spreads, state Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, said in a statement issued Friday.
"I appreciate the leadership of local officials around the state who issued shelter-in-place orders for their jurisdictions," Kendrick said. "I encourage all Missourians to take the order and the virus seriously. We are all in this together. Let's all do our part."
Rolla Mayor Louis Magdits IV, whose city imposed a stay-at-home order this week, said ahead of Parson’s announcement that it will make enforcement easier.
The governor’s action will make clear that the local rules are necessary, Magdits said.
"What makes those challenging is you have a certain part that wants it and wants it now, another part that says it is not needed, and a third part that says it is needed but not quite yet," Magdits said.
The order comes as state lawmakers prepare to return to Jefferson City next week to meet briefly to pass a supplemental budget bill to support the state’s response and use newly available federal funding.
Budget amendments signed by state Budget Director Dan Haug and provided to the Tribune detail $5 billion in new spending, ranging from $1.8 billion for public schools, $1.1 billion for local governments and money for higher education, social services and emergency response.
One item provides $138.7 million for the University of Missouri.
Before Parson spoke, the Missouri Association of Osteopathic Physicians added its voice to the list of medical groups urging Parson to act.
The organization knew Parson was reluctant to impose the order, the statement read, but it was time to act.
"However, as the spread of COVID-19 in the state is increasing exponentially, and many local communities are not taking it upon themselves to issue ’shelter-in-place’ orders, MAOPS leadership feels stronger measures must be taken," the association stated.
The Democratic leader of the Missouri House, Rep. Crystal Quade of Springfield, said she hoped Parson would issue a statewide stay-at-home order at his Friday news briefing.
"I definitely believe he should issue one and it is far past time that it be done," she said in an interview from her home in Springfield, which has an order in place. "Most of the medical professionals in this state are asking for it and pleading for it."
The Missouri Hospital Association has also been urging Parson to act on the statewide order.
"We're one of a handful of states who have not done it yet, but certainly it will be a welcome thing for hospitals who are dealing with this on the front lines of care," said Dave Dillon, spokesman for the association.
Also on Friday, the Columbia-Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services said it will conduct more extensive contact tracing of patients who test positive, going back 48 hours before they started showing symptoms.
The expanded contact tracing in Boone County is based on new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control.
The department revisited the investigations previously done for many of the 74 patients who, through early Friday afternoon, have tested positive for the virus that causes the disease known as COVID-19, Ashley Millham, medical director for the health department, said Friday in a video briefing on Facebook.
The department has now been tracing contacts to find anyone in close proximity to patients in the two days before they developed symptoms.
The new CDC guidance is that anyone who is in close contact with someone who tests positive with COVID-19 within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms should be instructed to take precautions.
"We've been going backwards, making sure people are contacted who have been in close contact," Millham said. Health department personnel already had done the additional tracing, and those who were in close contact have been told.
When an employee at Russell Boulevard Elementary School developed the disease, the health department traced only those who had been in close contact with the employee in the 24 hours before developing symptoms.
In the video, Millham also said the peak of the pandemic in Boone County based on current models is mid- to late-May.
"It is a prediction," Millham said.
The first case of COVID-19 in the state was confirmed March 7 in St. Louis County. The first case in Boone County was identified March 16. That patient died on March 17.
Through Friday afternoon, there have been 19 deaths in the state.
Nationally, there were 273,088 confirmed infections in the United States at 6 p.m. Friday, with 7,077 deaths attributed to COVID-19. The numbers reported in the U.S. grew by almost 35,000 in 24 hours, with the number of deaths up more than 1,300 in the same period.
Worldwide, the tracking data on cases confirmed by testing approached 1.1 million Thursday afternoon, increasing by about 90,0000 in 24 hours. Deaths worldwide that are blamed on the coronavirus now total 58,787.
Roger McKinney of the Columbia Daily Tribune contributed to this report.
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