St. Louis stay-at-home order could be extended into May, officials say


St. Louis Public Library Director Waller McGuire speaks at a Jan. 7 press conference announcing a “New Year, No Fines” joint initiative by the city and county public libraries. Also pictured, left to right, are county library Director Kristen Sorth, St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson and County Executive Sam Page.

By Gloria Lloyd, News Editor

The stay-at-home order in effect through next week in St. Louis County and St. Louis city is likely to be extended into May, the county executive and mayor both said Monday.

Statewide and countywide executive orders currently mandate that people stay home and any non-essential businesses remain closed through April 25 to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

St. Louis County and the city of St. Louis have been under stay-at-home orders since March 23 that initially lasted through April 22. Gov. Mike Parson issued a statewide order last week that extends through April 25. Schools have also been closed for the rest of the school year, through late May.

Hospital officials project St. Louis will see a surge in cases over the next week or two. As of 10 a.m. Monday, St. Louis County had 1,687 positive cases of coronavirus, with 42 deaths.

Those numbers are lower than local hospitals’ initial projections of how the virus could slam St. Louis, which might indicate that the stay-at-home orders have kept total cases in St. Louis below what they would otherwise have been. But that has come at a deep economic cost, for businesses both large and small.

County Executive Sam Page said that the stay-at-home order would likely be extended as he was speaking Monday morning at the first of what he said would be regular briefings held three times a week at the county courthouse in Clayton.

And St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson said the same in a radio interview on KTRS Monday morning.

“We do need to get our businesses back open, but we just can’t do it at this time because we just can’t risk the real explosion of the number of people who have this,” Krewson said. “Our stay-at-home order is in effect for another not quite two weeks, and it won’t surprise me if we don’t have to extend that for a couple of weeks.”

Page, who is a medical doctor, said he expects to talk with local leaders about an extension soon. And the likely extension of the stay-at-home directive would extend through May, Page said.

The county executive, mayor and other officials are keeping close tabs on daily counts of COVID-19 cases, hospital admissions, intensive-care admissions and overall hospital capacity before making any decision.

By the time an extended stay-at-home order would expire in May, area officials could better gauge how St. Louis has cooperated with social distancing directives long-term.

Krewson said in her radio interview that so far, she believes people are cooperating with the request to stay home, which has even splashed on billboards that say “Stay home, St. Louis.”

But to keep the curve of cases on a lower trajectory, continued cooperation is needed.

“We’re in this together,” Page said. “Everyone has to do their part. Everyone has to participate in social distancing.”

As for lifting the lockdown altogether, Page said he would “consider doing so sometime in May.”

And after that, “in order for us to relax social distancing standards, we need information that we don’t currently have,” including more time to see how social distancing in St. Louis is working and the effects on first responders and health-care workers, Page said.

That could also include more widespread testing. He and Krewson both said there’s not enough of it.

To ramp up capacity for testing, the county is “prepared to purchase” millions of dollars in coronavirus tests in the coming weeks, Page said. He didn’t have an exact number of tests that will be purchased at an estimated cost of $25 per test. But he noted that St. Louis County will be “competing” with regions from across the country to buy the tests.

“We will purchase them as quickly as we can,” he said, adding, “We will work with our regional partners to make sure testing is available widely in our community.”

Any eventual reopening of businesses would have to be gradual, just as St. Louis County first banned groups of 250 or more, then 50 or more, then instituted a lockdown, the county executive said.

“Our reductions (to a stay-at-home order) here in St. Louis County made jointly across our regions were thoughtful and staged and earlier in the process than most of the country,” Page said. “I would also expect that relaxing any social distancing won’t be a ‘light switch.’”

Talking directly to residents, Page said that officials around the region are collaborating on the pandemic response in unprecedented ways.

“I think it’s important to recognize that we have a plan, we’ve been working on this for a couple of months now, and we watched what happened around the country,” Page said. “Our hospital systems are working together in a very cooperative, efficient way. I’m very, very impressed with the way they’re coming together. This is a serious problem, we have to understand that COVID-19 is a new medical problem that we haven’t seen before… The best treatment is prevention.”

But St. Louis will get through it, he said.

“As a community, we’ve done this before,” he said. “St. Louis is a very resilient community, we’ve been challenged before.”