CLAYTON, Mo. (KMOV.com) - No indoor dining or big gatherings. These are among the restrictions St. Louis County Executive Dr. Sam Page announced Friday morning.
Page's announcement on new restrictions comes after COVID-19 cases continue to rise at an alarming rate in the St. Louis area. The county has added an average of 677 new cases every day this week, the highest weekly average since the beginning of the pandemic. The county's seven-day positivity rate reached 16% on Friday, the highest since late April.
The safer at home order brings back a 25% capacity for businesses and a limit of 10 people for gathering. Restaurants and bars will close indoor dining but will be able to serve curbside and outdoor dining with a 25% capacity limit. Residents are instructed to not leave their homes, except for specific purposes, which were detailed here. People are encouraged to form social 'bubbles.'
“This won't be easy and this won’t be fun,” Page said, acknowledging Thanksgiving is right around the corner. “I wish this wasn’t where we needed to go, but it is.”
All businesses will remain open, many at reduced capacity, but Page said his intent was not to close non-essential business as was done in the spring.
The limitations threaten businesses ahead of the busy holiday shopping season.
“I think that COVID has devastated our country in so many ways,” Page said. “We have loss of life in our country that will rival World War II and may exceed it before this is done. And, we have people that will lose their jobs. We have businesses that will be damaged, and some very seriously, some will be devastated. People will lose loved ones, school is disrupted, sports is disrupted, retail, especially around holiday sales will be disrupted."
Page acknowledged the bars and restaurants are some of the hardest hit businesses amid the pandemic, but said the restriction were put in place for reason.
“We do have evidence of transmission from bars and restaurants. This is a business that depends on an unmasked environment for people to gather together. We are very sensitive to the economic plight of all of our businesses including restaurants and bars, and we certainly feel badly for them. They are in a terrible situation and have been deeply impacted by COVID-19...We don’t like to do it, but this is where we are and what we have to do in St. Louis County.”
The face covering order mandates mask usage outside of a home for all people over the age of 5. Exceptions were made for dining, sports and for those with medical conditions.
“We have a strong compliance with our masking order, but not everyone is wearing a mask,” Page said, adding the City appears to have a higher level of compliance, which resulted in less community spread there.
Page’s quarantine and isolation order instructs anyone who has tested positive to self isolate for 10-14 days and notify anyone they have come into close contact with. The health department, he said, is unable to perform contact tracing on all COVID-19 patients.
These orders take effect on Nov. 17 at 12:01 a.m. and will remain in place until reevaluation four weeks later.
“I am deeply concerned that not everyone is taking personal responsibility in following public health orders,” Page said. “Our hospitals are filling up, our health workers are overwhelmed and exhausted and we continue to break records daily in the number of new cases and in the number of patients our hospitals are tending to. Everybody needs to be all-in if we are going to get control of this virus.”
As of Friday, a cumulative total of 39,554 St. Louis County residents have been infected with the virus and 912 of them have died.
The restrictions in St. Louis County would not apply to schools, but many local districts have decided to scale back in-person learning. Some have temporarily shifted to virtual learning entirely.
Page takes aim at Washington's response, warns against 'virus fatigue'
Twice during his Friday news conference, Page questioned the national response to the pandemic, saying a mask mandate in the spring would have kept virus cases under control.
"A national masking policy and national strategy early on, would have positioned us like other industrialized nations to do much better than we are right now but you know this is where we are."
Now, as virus fatigue sets in, he's worried some have let their guard down.
"We're here in part because of virus fatigue," Page said. "Many people tell me I'm done with this virus. And I can only say this virus is not done with us. And it's not going to be done with us until we change what we do as individuals, and we follow our public health guidelines. And until we have a vaccine."
Residents, business owners react
Residents across St. Louis City and County have different opinions on new restrictions. They all want to the pandemic to end, but not all agree on how.
"People are going to do what they're going to do," Beth Bottchen said restrictions would only work if everyone abides. "If people would just wear masks it would be a lot better."
Some believe restrictions are needed while others believe public health orders are an inconvenience.
"That's all you report, I am sick of it, I am sick of it," a woman who didn't want to be identified said. "I am going to do what I've always done. Everything. I will go visit people, I'll have people over. I am doing the same for Christmas. I am not stopping anything. They're not going to control my life. I didn't vote for these idiots."
Russell Ping, owner of Russell's Cafe and Bakery in Fenton and Russell's on Macklind in St. Louis, said he'll do the best he can to sustain his businesses for the next four weeks.
"I don't think profit is even in our vocabulary. It's not even something we're even striving for at this point in time. It's more just kind of sustaining and making sure we can keep as many people employed as we can," he said.