Missouri recorded its largest single-day increase in known coronavirus infections Friday, with 168 new cases reported to the Department of Health and Senior Services.
The daily report that the state had 670 confirmed infections came just a few hours after Gov. Mike Parson issued an executive order directing the Missouri National Guard to mobilize to assist in the state’ response to the expanding COVID-19 pandemic.
At his daily briefing, Parson tried to assure Missourians that the mobilization is not intended to oppress them.
"This is not about putting Missouri under martial law," Parson said. "This is a planning stage operation, to provide more assistance to Missourians and increase our capacity to deploy resources quickly."
There are now confirmed infections in 51 of the state’s 116 local health department jurisdictions, one for each county and St. Louis and Kansas City.
Boone County has 42 cases, according to the latest count from the Columbia-Boone County Health Department. The number includes 13 cases of known community transmission.
About 40 percent of the cases in the state are in St. Louis County, which had 247 known infections. There are 72 known infections in the city of St. Louis and another 51 in counties in the St. Louis metropolitan area.
The Missouri Hospital Association on Friday issued a call for any business with a supply of personal protective equipment, especially N95 masks, to make them available for hospital use. It also asked for retired or non-practicing providers to consider returning to work.
Medical providers are working extended hours and in addition to their potential exposure to the contagion at work, they face the same dangers outside as others, the association stated.
"Our health care system is dependent on the availability of skilled caregivers," said Herb Kuhn, the association’s president and CEO. "Individuals with health care training and certification are being encouraged to assist with the staffing challenges that could materialize."
Missouri's Social Services Department on Saturday will start fielding phone calls about food stamp questions seven days a week to deal with the influx of requests for help. The agency on Friday also announced that the federal government approved its request to temporarily suspend phone interviews and direct applicants online.
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, in a YouTube video released Thursday, also asked that any recently retired doctors, nurses or other health care professionals come back to work. Page, himself a physician, said he’s worried that hospitals will be overwhelmed soon.
"In the coming weeks our medical institutions will face a heavy burden," Page said. "We need your help to make sure everyone gets the treatment that they need."
Kansas City has 78 cases, with Jackson County outside Kansas City reporting 41 more.
There have been nine deaths in Missouri blamed on COVID-19 disease.
A little less than half the state’s population is under local stay-at-home orders, including Boone County. Parson has resisted taking those orders statewide.
In an executive order issued Friday morning, Parson directed Adjutant General Levon Cumpton to call into active service any Guard units that are necessary to protect life and property and support civilian authorities.
At this point, Cumpton said at the briefing, the guard’s role is to organize in support of the other agencies and be prepared to transport supplies and do other tasks.
Like Parson, he sought to calm any fears of a military takeover. He emphasized that Guard members come from the ranks of civilians, called to duty when needed.
""Let me also assure you we are not some outside organization coming in to impose someone else's agenda on you," Cumpton said. "We are not here to control you. Hell, we are you."
President Donald Trump on Thursday approved Parson's request to designate Missouri as a major disaster area, which will provide federal funding to support the response effort.
Under Parson's emergency declaration for the state, gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited, schools are closed until at least early April and most restaurants and other service establishments are limited to delivery or curbside service. In the state's largest metropolitan areas — Columbia, Springfield, St. Louis and Kansas City — are under stay-at-home orders that will last until at least the last week of April.
During the briefing, Parson was asked whether he would attempt to cancel those orders. In Mississippi, Gov. Tate Reeves created confusion with an order initially believed to supersede local orders.
Parson has been unwilling to issue a statewide stay-at-home order.
"I would not," he said. "I have the confidence in the mayors across the state of Missouri to make those decisions for their local communities and I think it is important we support them on those decisions."
Among the hard-hit places in Missouri is Life Care Center in St. Louis, a nursing home that has reported six cases. Sean Buckley, executive director of the Life Care Center in St. Louis, said in a written statement that four residents were hospitalized and two employees were directed to stay at home.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the nursing home is owned by the same company that operates the Life Care Center of Kirkland, near Seattle, where 37 people died from COVID-19. Another Life Care facility in Kansas City was the site of Kansas’ first coronavirus death.
Health officials have said that three of the people who have died of the coronavirus lived at an assisted-living center in Springfield.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, which covers the western third of Missouri as well as parts or all of six other states, released a troubling report Friday, saying that 54% of the companies surveyed expected lower levels of employment for 2020 because of COVID-19 and market volatility. The report also said that 63% of the companies were concerned about cash availability.
Nationally, the growth in cases continued unabated Friday. At 7 p.m., there were just over 101,657 known infections nationwide, an increase of almost 18,000 in 24 hours, with 1,581 deaths blamed on the disease.
Worldwide, there are now more than 593,000 cases, with the coronavirus blamed for 27,198 deaths.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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