The city of Springfield is extending its mask requirement until April 9, citing the fast-rising number of hospitalizations and deaths in Missouri's third-largest city, and leaders are warning that violators will face punishment.

O'FALLON — The city of Springfield is extending its mask requirement until April 9, citing the fast-rising number of hospitalizations and deaths in Missouri's third-largest city, and leaders are warning that violators will face punishment.

"We are quite literally in the middle of the darkest days when it comes to virus exposure, positive cases, hospitalizations and deaths," Mayor Ken McClure said at a news conference Tuesday, a day after the City Council voted to extend the ordinance originally passed in October. The law also sets occupancy restrictions and social distancing requirements.

The decision comes amid worries that that number of people requiring hospitalizations will only get worse as people gather for the holidays. Statistics released Tuesday by the state showed in-patient bed capacity across Missouri was at 24%. Intensive care unit bed space was at 22% statewide and below 20% in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas.

Hospital leaders in Springfield told the City Council last week that they had so many COVID-19 patients that they were only able to take about two-fifths of the patients seeking transfer from smaller hospitals. Meanwhile, 51 of Greene County's 247 COVID-19 deaths have occurred this month.

Republican Gov. Mike Parson has often urged people to wear a mask but has declined to issue a statewide mask mandate. Dozens of cities and counties have issued their own mandates.

Springfield City Manager Jason Gage said the city took an "educational approach first" when it came to enforcement. Now, violators can face a $100 fine. Business operators who fail to require compliance also can face a fine, along with suspension or revocation of their business license.

"It is time to step up efforts and send a clear message that those not in compliance will be ticketed," Gage said in a statement. "We are entering into the most deadly phase of the pandemic, and ensuring masking compliance is the least we can do to preserve our hospital capacity and to protect our older friends and family members and those with medical conditions."

The statewide coronavirus death toll continues to mount, growing by 240 on Tuesday. The big jump was due largely to the state's weekly review of death certificates that linked more than 200 deaths to COVID-19 that had not been previously reported. Of the newly reported deaths, two happened in August, four in October, 180 in November and 54 this month.

The state's COVID-19 dashboard cites 4,754 deaths since the pandemic began amid 350,365 confirmed cases, including 2,762 newly confirmed cases.