KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - Missouri's health department on Tuesday reported 15 positive cases of coronavirus as state and local governments took additional steps to limit large gatherings in an attempt stem the virus' spread. Meanwhile, the state's governor warned that he expects the crisis to last for "months."
The agency has reported cases of COVID-19 in Boone, Cass, Cole, Greene, Henry, Jackson and St. Louis counties, as well as one case in the city of St. Louis.
Gov. Mike Parson on Tuesday ordered the closure of Missouri's 13 casinos as of midnight through March 30. Meanwhile, some nonviolent jail inmates are being freed to reduce the risk of transmission behind bars.
Parson, speaking during an evening video posting on Facebook, said Missourians should expect a long crisis.
"I believe we have to consider that this is going to be here for months," Parson, a Republican, said. "And I believe we have to prepare for that every day."
The news came the same day that neighboring Kansas announced it was closing state-owned casinos through March 30. Illinois closed casinos on Monday for at least two weeks.
Missouri Gaming Commission Chairman Mike Leara said the impact of the shutdown could mean up to $1 million a day in lost revenue for the state. He said once local governments began taking actions in recent days to limit public gatherings to no more than 50, it became apparent that the casinos couldn't remain open.
Leara said he felt especially bad for the thousands of casino workers in Missouri.
"These people, they love their jobs, they make good money," Leara said. "Man, that's really tough to tell them they can't come to work."
The virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, for most people, but severe illness is more likely in the elderly and people with existing health problems. Worldwide, COVID-19 has killed over 7,800 people so far, while more than 80,000 have recovered.
Across the state, other steps were being taken to protect people from the virus.
At least six members of Kansas City, Missouri's 12-member city council will self-quarantine this week because of possible COVID-19 exposure. a spokeswoman for Mayor Quinton Lucas told the Kansas City Star on Tuesday.
Officials in St. Louis, St. Louis County and St. Charles County announced that effective midnight Thursday, restaurants and bars are prohibited from offering dine-in service. Kansas City enacted a similar ban that began Tuesday.
Columbia Mayor Brian Treece said to expect an order from the city's public health director Tuesday directing bars and restaurants in the college town to cut their capacity in half or limit occupants to 50 people, including staff.
At St. Louis' Gateway Arch, the visitor center, museum and grounds remained open, but the tram that transports visitors to the top of the Arch was shut down until further notice.
At St. Louis City Hall, visitors were being scanned for fevers before entering the building. The scan involved non-contact infrared thermometers. St. Louis Circuit Court suspended all jury trials through April 10.
Meanwhile, the top prosecutors in St. Louis city and county took actions to ease jail crowding and reduce the risk of spreading the virus.
St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell said in a statement that anyone arrested for a nonviolent crime who does not appear to pose a threat will be released with a summons to appear in court, rather than be jailed. People already housed at the county justice center awaiting trial will be considered for release if they are accused of a nonviolent or "low-level" crime, Bell said.
The decision is part of a cooperative agreement between his office, judges, the county health department and other county entities, Bell said.
Bell, who took office in January 2019, has made reducing the jail population a priority and said the population has fallen by 30% since he took office.
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner said detention will be sought only for suspects who pose a threat to public safety. She also said her office is seeking "cash bail alternatives" and is taking steps to push back most court cases for 60 days to reduce courtroom contact during the health crisis.
Parson said decisions on releasing nonviolent inmates are up to local officials.
St. Louis Public Schools and St. Louis-area charter schools announced a program to provide free "grab-and-go" meals at 33 school sites while the schools are closed. The district has shut down classrooms until at least April 3. The meals will be available from 8 a.m. to noon for anyone age 18 and younger who lives in St. Louis city, but because of social distancing recommendations, the meals cannot be eaten on-site.
Parson's office said 432 of Missouri's 555 public school systems have or will soon close.