Parson issues statewide stay-at-home order to curb virus

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Gov. Mike Parson issued a statewide stay-at-home order on Friday, meaning Missouri has joined about 40 other states already requiring residents to avoid going out except for essential purposes.

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The order came as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Missouri reached 2,113, up 279, or 15%, from Thursday. The number of infections has increased more than eight-fold in the past 10 days. Nineteen people have died of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.

The order, issued by the state health director as directed by the Republican governor, still allows residents to leave their homes for groceries, exercise and other essential needs, as long as they stay 6 feet apart. It also requires public schools to stay closed, bans visits to nursing homes, and puts limits on the number of customers allowed in grocery stores and other essential businesses.

The majority of Missouri residents were already living under stay-at-home orders issued by local leaders, including most of the St. Louis and Kansas City areas, Springfield, Columbia and many other places. The statewide order is to take effect Monday and expires April 24.

But advocates of a statewide order contended the hodgepodge of local orders created confusion and raised the risk of spreading infection. Many medical leaders and politicians have urged Parson to require all Missourians to stay at home.

Parson issued an order on March 23 prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people, and has repeatedly urged people to be responsible. But he previously cited the low number of cases in many counties, especially rural counties, as the reason for declining to issue a statewide stay-at-home mandate.

More than 70% of confirmed Missouri cases are in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas, but cases in smaller counties are starting to rise.

Missouri’s order means that only a handful of states, mostly in the Midwest and South, have not issued stay-at-home orders. More than 90% of the nation’s residents are now living under such orders as part of efforts to ease the pandemic that has sickened more than 266,000 people in the U.S. and killed nearly 7,000.

In St. Louis County, the site of nearly 800 confirmed cases and seven deaths, officials warned about four dozen businesses to stop violating closure orders. Those businesses deemed non-essential include hobby shops, tanning salons, restaurants and others.

The county also announced it was closing all parks out of concerns that people were congregating in large numbers.

“With warmer weather, our parks are becoming more and more crowded,” St. Louis County Parks Director Tom Ott said in a statement. “During this health crisis, we cannot allow large groups of people to be together in one place.”

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Salter reported from O'Fallon, Missouri. Associated Press writer Heather Hollingsworth in Mission, Kansas, contributed to this report.