The third consecutive day of fewer than 200 new COVID-19 cases and the fourth day in five to achieve that mark is a sign that the state can shift its focus to attacking disease hot-spots, state Health Director Randall Williams said Tuesday.


During a news conference with Gov. Mike Parson, Williams outlined some of the changes in testing protocols that he will outline in greater detail on Wednesday.


Tuesday, the Department of Health and Senior Services reported 134 new COVID-19 infections, the lowest number since April 5, with 84 of the new cases in the St. Louis metropolitan area. The state now has confirmed 5,941 infections through testing.


The state health department reported another 12 deaths Tuesday, bringing the state total to 189. Deaths have been reported in 28 counties.



The testing will be changed to allow more law enforcement and other first responders access to tests, he said. Previously, they had to be able to show likely exposure and have symptoms to be tested.


The other change, he said, will be a focus on outbreaks in particular facilities such as nursing homes. When one case is found, he said, the state will respond.


"You go in and you test a lot of people and you test them quick," Williams said.


Parson held a news conference with reporters instead of a briefing broadcast through Facebook. He answered questions about the state budget difficulties ahead, the protesters who gathered by the hundreds outside the capitol calling for an end to stay-at-home orders and Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s decision to sue China for the pandemic.


State revenues continue to plummet. As of Monday afternoon, individual income tax collections were down 51 percent for the month and the drop in revenue had eroded the state’s tax gains this year to an anemic 1.1 percent. When the month began, the state’s tax receipt growth was 5 percent.


State lawmakers return to work Monday to finish work on a state budget. Parson said he is still waiting for federal guidance on how to use more than $2 billion the state is expecting.


"It is going to be several hundred million dollars we are going to have to get out of the budget to prepare for (fiscal year 2021)," he said.


Parson spoke after hundreds gathered in Jefferson City Tuesday to protest the continuing state stay-at-home orders even as signs multiplied that those restrictions intended to control the COVID-19 pandemic will be eased soon.


Schmitt on Tuesday filed a lawsuit in federal court against China, alleging its officials are "responsible for the enormous death, suffering, and economic losses they inflicted on the world, including Missourians."


Parson said he had not spoken to Schmitt about the case before it was filed.


"I am not sure what" Schmitt was intending, Parson said.


While the pandemic seems to be easing in the state, the extent of the economic damage does not. The latest economic casualties are 81 employees of Dura Automotive Systems in Moberly, who will be laid off beginning May 1.


The order covering Columbia and Boone County will end May 3, the same day the statewide order issued by Gov. Mike Parson will expire. Stephanie Browning, director of the Columbia-Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services, told the Columbia City Council her plans on Monday night.


The daily increase in cases in Boone County is minimal, Browning told the city council to explain why she would end the local order May 3. After the order, the first step will be to allow non-essential businesses to reopen as long as they maintain limits on the size of gatherings.


When Boone County’s order was imposed, she said, the number of cases was doubling every 1.85 days. If that had continued, she said, there would have been thousands of infections by early April.


"That would have definitely overwhelmed our health care capacity here," she said.


The local health department recorded Boone County’s 90th case on Tuesday. University of Missouri Hospital reported it had three inpatient cases and there is one at Boone Hospital Center. MU Hospital reported seven inpatient cases under investigation.


The state health department count for Boone County was 96 on Tuesday. The state has slightly different rules for classifying who is a resident of Boone County while counting cases.


Cole County will lift its stay-at-home order this weekend, just before state lawmakers return to complete their annual session. The lifting will allow bars and restaurants to reopen, with social distancing rules in place to limit gatherings to 10 people in a single space and require 6 feet between people.


The county will continue to be under the state restrictions, which will not allow bars or restaurants to reopen for inside service until at least May 3.


The rules after May 3 will allow almost all businesses to reopen, with guidelines for social distancing, Parson said.


Casinos will be a special case, as will visiting nursing homes, Parson said. Otherwise, restaurants, barber and beauty shops and other businesses " will all be allowed to open and will be given guidance," he said.


U.S. and Missouri flags will fly at half-staff on Wednesday for Kansas City Fire Department EMT and great-grandfather Billy Birmingham, Parson ordered Tuesday.


Birmingham, 69, is the first Missouri first responder killed in the line of duty after contracting COVID-19. He died April 13 after responding to several service calls in which there were patients positive for COVID-19, according to the Kansas City Fire Department.


He had 14 grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren, Parson’s office said in a news release.


"In the face of this unprecedented public health crisis, Billy Birmingham repeatedly and without hesitation risked his own health and safety by responding to emergency calls," Parson said. "EMT Birmingham died heroically and selflessly in service to others."


Among the latest deaths are 10 more people in the city of St. Louis. Nine of the victims were black residents, continuing an alarming trend that is being seen in many places across the U.S.


Thirty-two of the 40 people in St. Louis who have died from COVID-19, the virus caused by the coronavirus, were black. The city’s population is about evenly split between blacks and whites.


Jackson County will provide temporary emergency housing for homeless people who have tested positive for the coronavirus, the county’s Democratic executive, Frank White Jr., announced. The agreement with the Greater Kansas City Coalition to End Homelessness provides housing at the Salvation Army Kansas City Three Trails Camp for up to 12 weeks. County lawmakers approved $450,000 for the program on Monday.


"This emergency housing will help us slow the spread of COVID-19, while also providing some of our most vulnerable population a safe place to recover," White said in a statement.


As of Tuesday, there was least one confirmed COVID-19 infection in 97 of the 117 local health department jurisdictions that report to the state.


The count in Greene County stood at 84.


The county with the most cases outside the state’s four largest metropolitan areas remains Saline County, which has 54.


In other central Missouri counties, the only significant change in case counts was in Moniteau County, where the total increased by four to 25. There was also one additional case in Cooper County, bringing that county’s total to five.


As of early Tuesday afternoon, the U.S. had more than 816,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, up about 38,000 since Monday.


The contagion is blamed for 43,796 deaths in the United States.


Worldwide, the virus is known to have infected more than 2.5 million people and is blamed for more than 175,000 deaths.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.


rkeller@columbiatribune.com


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