With confirmed coronavirus cases in Missouri now topping 1,000, civil rights organizations, doctors and others are calling for the release of as many pretrial detainees as possible during the pandemic.
KANSAS CITY — With confirmed coronavirus cases in Missouri now topping 1,000, civil rights organizations, doctors and others are calling for the release of as many pretrial detainees as possible during the pandemic.
The Missouri Supreme Court on Monday made it clear that rules related to the release of detainees leave those decisions to local judges. Last week, a coalition of more than 30 organizations and medical professions urged the Supreme Court to issue an order releasing county jail detainees awaiting trial for nonviolent crimes and those in high-risk categories based on their age or medical condition.
"There are people all across the state caged in jails, many of them serving sentences on low-level charges or detained on cash bonds that they cannot afford to pay," Blake Storde, director of the St. Louis-based civil rights law firm ArchCity Defenders, said in a statement.
Missouri's two urban areas already have released several inmates. St. Louis city and county released nearly 150 inmates combined last week, and Jackson County released about 80.
The Missouri Sheriff's Association said it opposed the "sweeping release of offenders," citing a variety of concerns, including the safety of crime victims and the possibility that suspects could commit new crimes while out of jail.
Health officials said that as of Monday afternoon, 13 people have died and 1,031 coronavirus illnesses have been confirmed in Missouri, an increase of 128 from Sunday.
Among the confirmed illnesses are eight employees of the iconic Annie Gunn's restaurant in Chesterfield, often ranked among the best restaurants in the Midwest. Owners Thom and Jane Sehnert said in a statement that the restaurant closed March 19 and none of the workers experienced or reported symptoms prior to then. The statement said the restaurant is undergoing "extensive professional disinfecting."
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
St. Louis is under a stay-at-home order that allows outdoor exercise, but city leaders are concerned because some are gathering outdoors in large groups. The city has placed electronic signs at various places urging people to stay 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart. The city also closed streets at several parks, including Forest Park, to discourage social gatherings. The parks remain open.
Meanwhile, Kansas City Royals Chairman and CEO John Sherman announced a donation Tuesday of 500,000 meals from team investors, players and the team's charitable arm to address food insecurity amid the outbreak.
Salter reported from O'Fallon, Missouri.