Parson: Vaccine brings hope but the ‘fight is not over’

The rollout of the coronavirus is gaining momentum as Missouri’s coronavirus cases and hospitalizations begin to stabilize and extra health care workers arrive to provide relief, Gov. Mike Parson said Wednesday.

But Parson stressed that, with case volumes still high, “this fight is not over.”

“We must continue to social distancing. we must wear a mask, minimize travel and avoid large gatherings,” he added. “It is these actions combined with the vaccine that will get us through this.”

So far the state has received 314,000 vaccine doses, said Missouri’s health director, Dr. Randall Williams, with 66,000 administered as of Tuesday. The first doses were given to health care workers; vaccinations of long-term care residents and staff didn’t start until Monday when Walgreens and CVS Health began administering them.

“It is just a joyous occasion to be able to deliver the vaccine to those people who are the most vulnerable,” he said, adding that at least one person in nearly every zip code in the state has been vaccinated.

Parson and Williams’ remarks came as the number of confirmed cases rose Wednesday by 5,240 to 388,856 and the number of deaths increased by 175 to 5,491. State health officials reported that the rolling seven-day average of cases was 1,945, down from a peak of 4,723 on Nov. 20.

Hospitals, which have been under strain for weeks, also are getting an infusion of staff. Through a partnership with Vizient, a private national health care company, 33 respiratory therapists and 166 nurses and nurses aides are headed to six hard-hit facilities. Twenty-four of the health care workers started work on Monday, with the rest expected to arrive soon, Parson said.

Meanwhile, St. Louis County is allowing restaurants and bars to resume limited indoor dining starting Monday after shutting it down last month to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that establishments must close by 10 p.m. and capacity will be limited under the reopening plan that County Executive Sam Page announced Wednesday. They also must report customers’ names and contact information to health workers tracing coronavirus outbreaks. Some bars also will need to install physical barriers made of materials like plastic or plexiglass, Page said.

Public health officials and an informal group of restaurant advisors devised the safeguards.

County bars and restaurants have been limited to outdoor dining and carryout since the county entered a “safer at home” order on Nov. 17. But some restaurants challenged the restrictions to try to curtail curfews and bolster business during the pandemic, arguing they wouldn’t last much longer if limited to curbside pickup or outdoor dining.