As the use of stay-at-home orders spread beyond the state’s largest urban areas and Missouri recorded three more deaths Tuesday, Gov. Mike Parson again defended his decision not to impose a statewide rule for people to go out only for essential needs and work.
Two deaths in Springfield — one woman in her 70s and another in her 90s — were announced by Clay Goddard, director of the Springfield-Greene County Health Department. They were both residents of Morningside East of Springfield. The death of another resident, in her 80s, was announced late Monday.
A fourth woman who also lives at the home remains hospitalized.
Boone County issued a stay-at-home order after finding community transmission of the virus. That was quickly followed Tuesday by a similar order in Randolph County after a case was found there. Greene County, in southwest Missouri, also issued a stay-at-home oder.
“I don’t believe I am costing lives at all,” Parson said about resisting a statewide order. “I believe we as Missourians understand what this crisis is.”
On Tuesday afternoon, the state reported its second day of rapidly increasing infections of the novel coronavirus that causes the disease known as COVID-19. In its daily report, the Department of Health and Senior Services reported 255 confirmed infections in 30 local health department jurisdictions. Each county and the city of St. Louis is a separate jurisdiction, except that Kansas City is separate from Jackson County because it crosses county lines.
There were 97 confirmed cases in St. Louis County, which along with the city was the first to issue a stay-at-home order. Kansas City had 21 and Jackson County another 14 and a stay-at-home order took effect there on Tuesday.
Statewide, Parson is sticking with an order that limits gatherings to 10 people. State office buildings are closed to the public, most court actions are suspended and he is urging, but not ordering, people to stay at home.
“There is going to be plenty of time for people to blame people for certain things down the road,” Parson said at his daily briefing.
During the briefing, Parson brought forward Director Sandy Karsten of the Department of Public Safety to report on efforts to procure personal protective equipment, or PPE, for health care workers and first responders and the leaders of the state’s education departments to discuss how the state will continue to provide schooling during the outbreak.
Karsten said she had placed orders using $17.3 million of $18 million that Parson made available from state accounts to pay for the gear.
That order included $10 million worth of N95 respirator masks, which are in high demand for front-line interactions with those who may be infected, as well as gloves, surgical masks, gowns and disinfecting wipes, Karsten said. Deliveries will start next week.
Local agencies should also purchase as much as possible from their vendors, she said.
Other disasters experienced in recent years had a big impact on particular areas while leaving most of the state untouched. That is not the case with the coronavirus, she said.
“Although the COVID-19 pandemic is still developing here in Missouri and across our nation, it is already clear it will have a more sweeping impact on the state of Missouri than any other disaster that has impacted our citizens,” Karsten said.
The education leaders, Commissioner Margie Vandeven of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and Commissioner Zora Mulligan of the Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development, said they are working to make the changes needed for education to continue remotely for as long as needed.
“I will recognize that there is no doubt that this challenges the department’s main mission of making sure all children have access to equitable opportunity,” Vandeven said.
The state budget is going to take a big hit, Parson warned.
In one of his executive orders, Parson granted extra time to pay income taxes and file tax returns, including estimated payments for this year, without penalty.
The Legislature has not passed a budget for the coming fiscal year and the Missouri Senate has legislation pending that would fund emergency spending through the end of the current fiscal year on June 30.
Parson expressed confidence that lawmakers would be able to meet before the mandatory adjournment in mid-May and act on those bills. However, he said the budget will have to be altered dramatically to account for what will be an unprecedented decline in revenue.
During the financial crisis of 2007 to 2009, state revenues declined more than 16 percent over two years.
“It doesn’t take much to realize that the economy is in the shape it is in today and it is going to continue to slide until we take care of it,” Parson said.
The almost 40 percent increase in the number of known coronavirus cases in Missouri was almost double the rate of increase nationwide on Tuesday. Shortly before 7 p.m., the U.S. had 53,740 known infections, with more than 700 deaths. Worldwide, the number of known infections eclipsed 400,000, rising to more than 417,000. COVID-19 is blamed for more than 18,600 deaths.
The data on infections is based on tests that confirm the disease. The number of people who have been infected and not tested and the number who have died without being diagnosed is unknown.
The state is working to make testing as available as possible and has 28 mobile testing units in the field, Parson said.
“We wish we had more tests on hand,” he said. “There is no doubt about that. But unfortunately the supply all across the United States is not where it needs to be at this point.”
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