Some state parks close today, including Castlewood; state prisons won’t release inmates

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Gov. Mike Parson gets his flu shot in October 2019.

By Jordan Meier, Missouri News Network

Parks and prisons were major topics at Gov. Mike Parson’s Tuesday update on COVID-19 in Missouri. This comes after a weekend of high traffic at many state parks, and questions about whether the governor will consider releasing nonviolent offenders from state prisons.

State park closures

Carol Comer, director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, announced at the Tuesday briefing that five state parks would be closed or partially closed by Thursday.

“While safety, stewardship and service are all very important in Missouri State Parks, safety is our first priority,” Comer said.

Four parks will be completely closed, one park will be partially closed and all parks will be required to follow new guidelines.

Castlewood State Park in Ballwin, Missouri; Elephant Rocks State Park in Belleview, Missouri; Watkins; Woolen Mill State Park and State Historic Site in Lawson, Missouri; and Weston Bend State Park in Weston, Missouri, will all be completely closed by 5 p.m. Thursday.

St. Joe State Park in Park Hills, Missouri, is closing the off-road vehicle riding area, and all other state parks will close gates after parking lots have reached capacity.

“The last thing we want to do is be shutting down outdoor facilities, state parks and so forth. But again, it comes back to the personal responsibility of how we conduct ourselves and how we act,” Parson said.

These closures will remain in place until April 30.

COVID-19 in prisons

Parson and Anne Precythe, director of the Department of Corrections, also discussed how Missouri is handling COVID-19 in state prisons.

Precythe said prisons have been preparing since March and have taken precautions like suspending offender visitation, stopping prison transfers and screening all offenders from county jails upon arrival. Precythe also said that strict sanitation has been put in place, and they are in the process of ensuring all facilities have adequate cleaning supplies

“Our preparation efforts have been focused on keeping the virus out of our institutions as well as a containment process if the virus gets in,” she said.

There are currently no inmates that have tested positive for COVID-19, with 18 prisoners tested for the virus, she said. Thirteen tests have come back negative, four are still pending and one person did test positive while in a prison hospital, but tested negative a few days later.

However, if there is an outbreak in a prison, Precythe said the department is considering how to create isolation cells. This could include wings of housing units or even entire units where inmates that have tested positive would be moved to hopefully contain the virus.

“We are no different from the community at large in the sense that our environment is changing daily as well,” Precythe said.

Some people have suggested releasing nonviolent offenders to decrease the prison population and keep prisons from being overrun by COVID-19, but Parson said that is not an option.

“We have no intention of releasing incarcerated individuals at this time,” he said.

Parson also announced that the number of positive cases in Missouri is 1,327 as of 2 p.m. Tuesday. There have also been 14 deaths across the state.

St. Louis County had 663 virus cases and six total deaths as of 5 p.m. Thursday.

In Boone County, 66 new cases had been confirmed as of 5 p.m. Tuesday. Seventeen of those cases are due to community transmission, according to the Columbia/Boone County Department of Health and Human Services‘ daily news release.

Despite numbers continuing to rise, Parson said he still doesn’t think that Missouri needs a stay-at-home order similar to the ones issued by St. Louis County Executive Sam Page and St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, and by 38 other state governors.

“There’s still 95 counties in this state that has less than five cases coronavirus in it,” Parson said. “So, I have to take that into consideration as I make decisions on how it affects one the economy, how it affects those areas, and I realized that coronavirus will spread and continue to spread, but those decisions will be made daily.”

For more COVID-19 related news, see our section dedicated to COVID-19 updates.