Page issues stay-at-home advisory and restricts businesses, gatherings as COVID cases climb

%E2%80%98Code+Sunshine%E2%80%99+is+a+welcome+birthday+gift%3A+After+being+admitted+for+COVID-19+to+Mercy+Hospital+South+on+his+daughter%E2%80%99s+birthday%2C+April+2%2C+Bill+finally+went+home+in+late+April+with+his+wife%2C+Lynn+%E2%80%93+on+his+own+68th+birthday.+Bill%2C+a+COVID-19+patient+who+only+wanted+to+provide+his+first+name%2C+spent+three+weeks+at+Mercy+Hospital+South%2C+with+a+week+on+a+ventilator+and+two+weeks+in+intensive+care.

‘Code Sunshine’ is a welcome birthday gift: After being admitted for COVID-19 to Mercy Hospital South on his daughter’s birthday, April 2, Bill finally went home in late April with his wife, Lynn – on his own 68th birthday. Bill, a COVID-19 patient who only wanted to provide his first name, spent three weeks at Mercy Hospital South, with a week on a ventilator and two weeks in intensive care.

By Gloria Lloyd, News Editor

With COVID-19 cases overwhelming hospitals, St. Louis County residents will be encouraged for the next month to stay home and only leave to go to work, school, medical care, grocery shopping and other essential activities in a modified stay-at-home order issued Friday by County Executive Sam Page.

In rules that go into effect at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, Page’s “safer at home order” will not separate businesses into essential and nonessential businesses as his six-week stay-at-home order did early in the pandemic. But all businesses, retail or otherwise, will be limited to 25-percent capacity instead of the 50-percent capacity they had been operating under. Indoor dining is once again banned at restaurants, although outdoor dining, curbside and takeout will be allowed to operate.

Page was elected to a two-year term last week, the day after saying he might have to enact higher restrictions if cases did not go down.

“We are encouraging everyone to limit their activity in the community to what they absolutely need or their bubble,” Page said. “We are not closing any retail, we are limiting all businesses to 25-percent capacity with the exception of indoor dining in restaurants.”

Anyone who can work from home is encouraged to work from home under the order.

Although the county executive said a national mask mandate would have helped lower cases, he did not want to spend too much time retracing how the virus got to current levels: “This is where we are. We’re here in part because of virus fatigue — many people tell me ‘I’m done with this virus,’ and I can only say this virus is not done with us.”

Page is also encouraging residents to form “bubbles” of 10 friends and family that are the only people they see outside the house, including for holiday gatherings like Thanksgiving. The members of the bubble are still required to wear masks and socially distance when gathering.

Officials have partially blamed the recent rise in cases on large gatherings surrounding Halloween, and the county is now officially discouraging large family gatherings for the holidays.

“We have to be cautious around our holidays — this is not going to be a holiday season like anyone has seen in the past 100 years. We have to limit gatherings, we have to limit gatherings in people’s homes,” Page said. “Folks that are traveling in and out of the community are at grave risk to bring COVID to others. We have to take this very seriously. We do recognize that limiting holiday gatherings is going to be very difficult — it’s where we are until we reach the other side of this, but the next few months is going to be very difficult for everyone. There will be a great deal more loss of life and a great deal more sacrificed in the community.”

A second order expands the existing countywide mask mandate to require that everyone over the age of 5 wear a mask while outside their house, even while visiting private homes. Social distancing and staying 6 feet apart is still required.

Page’s third order will limit the county Department of Public Health’s participation in contact tracing and enforcing quarantines due to the sheer number of cases county officials are facing. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the health department has contacted those who test positive, traced their contacts, asked them to quarantine and provided a letter releasing them from quarantine. The health department will instead focus on high-risk populations and will be unable to handle every case. Anyone who tests positive for the virus is required to trace their own contacts and let them know that they’ve been exposed, and enforce their own isolation.

The order lowering business capacity will be enforced by complaints, but the county will be unable to police private gatherings inside houses, Page noted.