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As virus cases rise, St. Louis area requires face coverings

July 1, 2020 GMT

O’FALLON, Mo. (AP) — As confirmed cases of the coronavirus rise in Missouri, hospitalizations are starting to increase, too, prompting leaders of the state’s largest metropolitan area to require face coverings.

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson announced Wednesday that both the city and St. Louis County will require face coverings when out in public. Kansas City and Jackson County began requiring face coverings earlier this week.

“It’s just a precaution. We don’t want to have to pull back on reopening,” Krewson said during a live update on Facebook.

Missouri is among several states seeing increases in confirmed cases of virus that causes COVID-19 since the economy reopened. The state health department has reported nearly 2,900 newly confirmed cases in the past week, including 376 cases and two deaths on Wednesday. The state has seen 21,927 confirmed cases, including 1,017 deaths, since the pandemic began. The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

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The Missouri Hospital Association on Wednesday reported a rise in people being hospitalized, especially in southwestern Missouri and the Kansas City area. Spokesman Dave Dillon said there are no regions facing shortages of hospital beds or ventilators.

“We are not in a position where our resources are being outstripped by the demand for services,” Dillon said. “Our concern is that the trend is moving in the wrong direction.”

Freeman Health Care in Joplin is treating 20 coronavirus patients, said Jeremy Jones, director of critical care services and cardiology at the southwestern Missouri hospital. Until a couple of weeks ago, the hospital was typically treating six or seven patients with the virus at any given time.

“We’re staying pretty busy right now,” Jones said. “This has definitely been a big spike for us.”

Missouri reopened for business on June 16. There are no statewide rules on social distancing currently in place, though Republican Gov. Mike Parson has repeatedly stressed personal responsibility.

Concerns are exacerbated by the upcoming Fourth of July holiday, when many people are expected to gather at parties, festivals and fireworks displays.

Dr. Alex Garza of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force said the “logical explanation” for the rise in cases is a combination of more testing and increased transmission in the community.

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After weeks of declining hospitalizations, the St. Louis-area hospitals reported a significant upturn in new hospitalizations between Monday and Tuesday, rising to 28 from 16, according to the task force. The number of new hospitalizations announced Wednesday was 22, still higher than the average of 14 from just a couple of weeks ago.

“It’s really a reminder to all of us that the virus is still out there and we must do our part to keep it from spreading and to keep cases from increasing at a rapid rate,” Garza said at a news conference.

The Joplin Globe reported that five residents have died at a nursing home called Spring River Christian Village since a COVID-19 outbreak there began in mid-June, and 70 residents and staff have been infected. The company that operates the center said in a statement that it has not yet been determined “whether COVID-19 was a factor” in the deaths.

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