Cooper County issues notice of COVID exposure at Walmart

From staff and wire reports
Demonstrators hold signs Saturday in the Country Club Plaza district of Kansas City. With COVID-19 continuing to infect about 200 new people daily, many who have participated in mass protests are wearing masks to limit spread of the coronavirus.

Cooper County reported that one of three new cases of COVID-19 found there this week is a person who was a daily visitor to Walmart for more than a week before testing positive.

The Cooper County Public Health Center, in a news release issued Tuesday, stated that the person also spent Friday evening at the Main Street Pub in Boonville, arriving late and staying until closing.

“The Cooper County Public Health Center is currently working with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to conduct an investigation in an effort to identify any individual that may have come in close contact with the positive individual to monitor them for symptoms and assist in the containment of the virus,” the release stated.

The individual was at the Walmart at 2150 Main Street in Boonville each day from June 6 through Monday. The release did not state what times the person was shopping.

The three new positive cases of coronavirus infection in Cooper County are the first since May 1 and are part of a pattern of increasing cases in rural regions of Missouri.

Two of the the cases are travel-related, the center reported, because both people work outside the county and are believed to have been exposed on the job. The third case — confirmed Wednesday — is related to a household contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19.

The health center has not issued any information about the activities of the second and third new cases as it conducts a contact-tracing investigation.

Statewide, the Department of Health and Senior Services reported 208 new cases statewide as of Wednesday, bringing the total since the first case in March to 16,625, with 27 additional deaths, raising the total to 907.

There were new cases reported in 45 counties on Wednesday. The largest percentage increases in counties with more than 50 cases were in McDonald County in southwest Missouri, with 18 additional cases, bringing the total to 116, and Sullivan County in north-central Missouri, with 13 additional cases to bring the total to 91.

While state cases continue to rise and Gov. Mike Parson said on Twitter Tuesday that “Missouri is FULLY OPEN,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that much of state government remains hunkered down.

Boone County and Columbia remain under local orders setting limits in bars, restaurants and retail stores at 50% of fire-rated capacity.

Parson, a Republican, last week announced he would allow the state’s social distancing order to expire this past Monday, moving Missouri into “phase 2” of his reopening plan.

But don’t expect to visit the Governor’s Mansion. Tours of the building, where Parson resides, were still suspended Tuesday. So too were tours of the state Capitol, where Parson works.

“We are evaluating how to move forward in a safe manner,” said Connie Patterson, spokeswoman for the state parks division.

The Governor Office Building, which houses some state offices near the mansion and the Capitol, on Tuesday was also closed to the public, according to signs posted at the building’s entrances.

“We continue to be hopeful for the future,” Parson said at a news briefing Tuesday. “But again, we have to remember that COVID-19 is still out there. Even though Missouri’s now open, it is still highly encouraged to practice social distancing.”

The end of statewide rules comes as the coronavirus is spreading beyond Missouri’s largest cities, fueled in part by outbreaks in meat packing plants and nursing homes.

“COVID-19 as of June 16 didn't disappear in Missouri,” state health Director Randall Williams said. “So we have to be prepared to watch closely, working with our local partners everyday, to make sure that we get in there early before it gains momentum."

The reopening also means reinstating some limits on public assistance that had been waived. Acting Department of Social Services Director Jennifer Tidball said starting July 1, families will again need to verify that they're still eligible to receive food stamps. The requirement was waived during the pandemic.

Tidball added that about 60% of eligible families of students who received free-and-reduced lunch at school have applied to get a one-time, maximum payment of $302. She said the agency extended the deadline to apply for the money to July 7.

The level of opening in state offices and facilities varies.

Some state-run campgrounds are operating at 50% capacity to allow for social distancing, said Carol Comer, director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

Comer, on Tuesday, said the agency still hasn’t started up all tours it previously conducted and said many employees in the environmental inspection division continue to work remotely.

“It has been a wild three months,” Comer said.

Chris Moreland, spokesman for the state Office of Administration, said 31% of the state’s workforce was continuing to work remotely. “For the time being, we will continue to encourage working remotely if possible as we have been,” he said.

In the attorney general’s office, staff are returning to work on a “staggered basis, with half of the staff coming in one week and the rest of the staff the next week,” said Chris Nuelle, spokesman for Attorney General Eric Schmitt, a Republican.

A spokeswoman for State Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick, a Republican, said that office’s intent was to have all employees return to office work by July 6.

“We were not entirely remote” during the pandemic, said Mary Compton, treasurer’s office spokeswoman. “Some functions of the Treasurer’s Office can only be completed in the office. We had as many people as possible working from home. We have gradually added staff back over the last few weeks.”

The Associated Press and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.