The fallout from the coronavirus could have an especially devastating impact in the black community, where many residents rely on public health clinics that are already beginning to feel a financial pinch, African American pastors in St. Louis told government leaders Thursday.

KANSAS CITY — The fallout from the coronavirus could have an especially devastating impact in the black community, where many residents rely on public health clinics that are already beginning to feel a financial pinch, African American pastors in St. Louis told government leaders Thursday.

The St. Louis Metropolitan Clergy Coalition represents more than 150 churches in the St. Louis region. Leaders of the coalition, in a conference call, told St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page and others that some public health clinics have already cut staffing by one-third because of the financial toll the virus is taking on the economy.

"When you have a crisis at all, the crisis is exacerbated in our community," the Rev. Darryl Gray said in a phone interview.

The number of confirmed Missouri cases of COVID-19 has risen to 28. One person has died, in Boone County.

New cases included two teachers and the parent of a student at Deutsch Early Childhood Center at Congregation Temple Israel in St. Louis County. The school's director told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that all three are recovering well.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

Leaders from three St. Louis-area counties -- St. Charles, Jefferson and Franklin -- said they are limiting gatherings to 10 or fewer, and warned that even small gatherings are potentially unsafe. During an afternoon news conference, Gov. Mike Parson encouraged, but did not require, that gatherings be limited to 10 or less for at least two weeks.

"Even nine, eight people in a small room can be just as dangerous as 50 people in a larger room," St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann said.

Concerns were also raised about crowding behind prison walls. State officials said that anyone entering a Missouri Department of Corrections facility, or office, will undergo enhanced screening. The new procedure will require everyone — staff, volunteers, vendors and other visitors — to answer a series of health-related questions when entering a corrections-related office or facility, ranging from community supervision centers to the state's 20 prisons, the Post-Dispatch reported.

Corrections spokeswoman Karen Pojmann said there are no suspected cases of COVID-19 among the state's nearly 26,000 inmates and there are no plans to release any inmates, something the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri requested Wednesday in a letter to Parson.

The ACLU urged Parson to commute the sentence of any inmate considered particularly vulnerable to the virus whose sentence would end within the next two years. The ACLU also urged police to stop arresting people for minor offenses.

Parson said all public and charter schools in Missouri are now closed.

Southeast Missouri State University, meanwhile, joined most other major colleges in the state in saying that all classes for the rest of the spring semester will be held online.

At the University of Missouri, undergraduate students still living on campus in Columbia after classes were moved online were told this week to make plans to move out. The University of Missouri system announced last week that spring semester classes would move online but had planned to keep the residence halls open.

The change occurred because public health officials instructed the university to reduce the density of on-campus housing, William Stackman, vice provost for student affairs, said in an email to students. 

U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner of Missouri announced Wednesday night that she would self-quarantine because she met with a colleague last week who has tested positive for COVID-19. Wagner, a Republican, said she had no symptoms but was isolating herself as a precaution after consulting with Congress' attending physician. She was the first House member from Missouri to announce a self-quarantine, The Kansas City Star reported.

Some Missouri institutions were trying to ease the tension by offering online diversions.

The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra launched an "Instrument Playground Online," a site featuring videos, photos and activities aimed at introducing children and others to the instruments of the orchestra and the musicians.

The zoos in both St. Louis and Kansas City are closed, but both are offering videos of favorite animals. The Kansas City Zoo has live webcams showing animals going about their daily routines -- penguins, polar bears and giraffes. The St. Louis Zoo is posting periodic videos to Facebook, YouTube and other sites, including one Wednesday of outdoor Humboldt penguins on a "field trip" to visit indoor penguins. 

_____

Ballentine reported from Columbia, Missouri. Salter reported from St. Louis.