There was some good news late Friday from a widely used model to project the course of the COVID-19 pandemic — deaths in Missouri may already have peaked and will be far less than previously estimated.
The news was not as good when Gov. Mike Parson reported on the state revenue picture for the coming fiscal year. Missouri can expect a shortfall of at least $1 billion in the state general revenue fund, a decline of about 10 percent from previous estimates, he said.
"I have never seen a deficit like that and it is going to take some time to go through that and figure out how we put a budget together," Parson said during a Friday news conference.
That decline is in line with the statements Parson has made previously about revenues but it is the first time he has put a dollar amount on the downturn.
The model created by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation previously showed the state could expect more than 1,700 deaths, with a peak later this month.
It now estimates there will be 352 total deaths from the disease caused by the coronavirus that emerged late last year. And, the model indicates, the state may have already seen its deadliest day.
Through Saturday, the state has recorded 175 deaths, an increase of 10 from Friday. During the last week, the state Department of Health and Senior Services recorded 65 deaths.
The department reported 234 new COVID-19 infections on Saturday, with 199 of the new cases in the state’s two largest metropolitan areas. The state now has confirmed 5,517 infections through testing.
Deaths have been reported in 28 counties.
State data shows the major growth in cases continues to be in the major metropolitan areas. There are 2,163 cases in St. Louis County, an increase of 75 from Friday, and 808 in the city of St. Louis, an increase of 97. There are 426 cases in St. Charles County, up nine from Friday.
Kansas City added 11 cases to bring its total confirmed cases to 412, and Jackson County outside the city had 268, an increase of one from Friday.
Last week, Parson extended the state stay-at-home order through May 3. Orders covering the Kansas City area have been extended to May 15 and those in place in St. Louis and St. Louis County have been extended indefinitely
The order covering Boone County is currently set to expire Friday and local officials have said they will make a decision later this week on whether to extend it or start operating under the state order.
The state may be able to relax some social-distancing rules by June 1 if strong measures to enable testing, contact tracing, isolation, and limiting gathering size are in place, the institute states on Missouri’s data page.
Those measures must be accompanied by a drop in active infections to one or fewer per 1 million people. That would be six or fewer active infections in Missouri. On Saturday, there were eight active cases in Boone County, out of 88 infections identified through testing.
One person has died and the other 79 have recovered. By the state health department count, Boone County had 93 cases on Saturday.
The social distancing measures implemented nationwide are working to control the spread and Missouri has implemented four of the six strategies measured by the institute.
The ones implemented in the state include a stay-at-home order, closing schools, restrictions on mass gatherings and business closures. Those not implemented are requiring all non-essential businesses to close or severely limiting travel.
"Now, the challenge – as well as opportunity – is for states to figure out how to reopen the US economy and allow people to get back to work without sacrificing that progress," IHME Director Christopher Murray said in a news release. "Relaxing social distancing too soon carries great risks of a resurgence of new infections. No one wants to see this vicious cycle repeating itself."
An explanation of why Missouri’s estimate was cut so much was not available Saturday.
The budget estimate means lawmakers will have unpleasant choices to make when they return April 27 to Jefferson City to work on a spending plan for the coming fiscal year, state Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, said Saturday.
Revenues continue to plummet, daily general revenue reports show. Through the end of the day Thursday, receipts for the month were down almost 24 percent, including a 33 percent decline in income tax payments. Overall revenues for the year remain up almost 4 percent, but that growth rate is down by more than 1 percent in a week’s time.
The cuts in state spending will probably fall heavily on education. The largest pots of flexible general revenue are spent on higher education and public schools.
The Missouri Constitution, however, directs at least 25 percent of general revenue to schools. There is no minimum for colleges and universities, which received about $900 million in state support this year.
University of Missouri System President Mun Choi has warned that likely cuts in state funding, as well as other income declines, could mean layoffs and other cuts to close a gap that could be $180 million.
Lawmakers have not been in session since mid-March except for a one-day meeting to pass a $6 billion supplemental spending bill. Almost $1.8 billion of that amount was money from a federal relief bill directed to public schools and higher education if the money can be spent as a substitute for state revenue.
So far, however, the state has no clear guidance from the federal government about whether it can be used that way, said Kendrick, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee.
He’s not optimistic about it, he said.
"It really does seem increasingly unlikely we are going to be able to use the coronavirus relief funds to backfill general revenue," Kendrick said.
State Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick, reached Saturday morning, said Kendrick is likely correct. The state received $1.2 billion on Wednesday, money that must be spent on extraordinary costs associated with the pandemic, and $900 million later this week.
The guidance from the federal government should come by the end of the week, Fitzpatrick said.
That federal guidance, and whether there will be additional federal support for state budgets, are among the biggest unknowns, Parson told reporters.
The best course might be for lawmakers to wait past the constitutional deadline for passing appropriation bills in the regular session, Kendrick said. They could meet in June in a special session with more certainty, he said.
Another option is to meet to pass supplemental appropriations if federal funding comes through, Kendrick said.
The number of new cases in the state may be slowing a bit, but coronavirus is also spreading to more places.
As of Saturday, there was least one confirmed COVID-19 infection in 94 of the 117 local health department jurisdictions that report to the state.
The count in Greene County increased by one to 84.
The county with the most cases outside the state’s four largest metropolitan areas is Saline County, which has 51. Scott County in southeast Missouri recorded its first death and has 49 confirmed cases.
Moniteau County, where infections found among workers at Burgers Smokehouse have closed that operation, reported four new infections Saturday, bringing the county total to 19. The case count was cut by one in Callaway County to 20.
Other central Missouri counties showed no change in their case numbers.
With the state’s report on Saturday, the seven-day total of new cases in the state stood at 1,493. That is almost 250 fewer than the previous week.
The growth in new cases in Missouri seems to be declining, and the same is true nationally. In the past seven days, the U.S. has averaged 28,820 new cases per day, compared to 31,298 the week before.
As of late Saturday afternoon, the U.S. had almost 727,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, up about 40,000 since late Thursday afternoon.
The contagion is blamed for 37,938 deaths in the United States, an increase of 5,706 in 24 hours.
Worldwide, the virus is known to have infected more than 2.3 million people and is blamed for 158,691 deaths.
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