Gov. Mike Parson on Tuesday continued his optimistic message about the state's reaction to the coronavirus pandemic and urged state residents to return to work if possible and support Missouri-based businesses.

LIBERTY, Mo. (AP) — Gov. Mike Parson on Tuesday continued his optimistic message about the state's reaction to the coronavirus pandemic and urged state residents to return to work if possible and support Missouri-based businesses.

A day after Parson's statewide stay-at-home order expired and some businesses reopened, the governor encouraged Missourians to “safely re-engage in the economy” by supporting businesses while also continuing social distancing and safety measures.

“It is such a crucial time in our state,” Parson said. "Now is the time we really need to support one another and support those mom and pop stores on Main Street, and really make an effort to go out there and keep our economy going.”

Parson spoke after Missouri announced it had 8,916 confirmed COVID-19 cases, compared to 8,754 Monday. There have been 377 deaths, up 19 from the 358 reported Monday. The newly reported deaths include some that occurred May 1-3 but were not already included in the count.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher than the number of confirmed cases because many people have not been tested and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick.

A sharp spike in confirmed cases in recent days was caused in part by mass testing of employees, including those without symptoms, at the Triumph Foods pork processing plant in St. Joseph, as well as increased testing at long-term care facilities and other locations, according to state health director Dr. Randall Williams.

The state health department said Tuesday that it has tested 2,367 Triumph Foods workers. Testing last week of workers showing no coronavirus symptoms found that 412, or 17.4%, were infected. About three dozen workers with symptoms also tested positive.

State officials have not recommended closure of the plant. Workers who tested positive have been told to isolate and not return to work for 10 days.

When asked what he would tell workers at meatpacking plants who are afraid to return to work, the governor said he hoped the companies were doing all they could to protect their workers and noted that state testing has helped identify people who should not be working.

It is between employees and businesses as to whether they return to work, he said.

"But I don't think you're going to be able to say 'I just don't feel comfortable going back to work' and you're going to be able to stay at home,” he said.

On Monday, a lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in St. Louis asking a judge to block emergency orders that are keeping many businesses in St. Louis and St. Louis County closed. The lawsuit contends Missouri law allows only the director of Health and Senior Services to close businesses.

The lawsuit asks the court to temporarily and permanently restrain the city and county from enforcing their orders. U.S. District Judge Stephen R. Clark Sr. has set a telephone conference on the lawsuit for 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.

The Missouri House also voted 89-58 on Tuesday to pass a bill that would shield health care providers from being sued over coronavirus treatment. Some Democrats raised concerns that the measure could be used to give nursing homes, first responders and other health care workers broader legal immunity.

The bill now heads to the Senate.

The policy appears to have Parson's support, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

“The last thing we want is good people getting sued because they were trying to save people’s lives in unusual circumstances,” Parson said. “I think we’re really going to have to take a good look at that.”

In Missouri, the coronavirus has infected residents in nearly 80 nursing homes and assisted care facilities in Missouri, according to state health officials.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up after two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

SEARCHABLE MAP: Coronavirus death rates and cases for every US county: https://interactives.courier-journal.com/projects/cv19/map/ 

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