Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details.
All events in the city of St. Louis drawing more than 1,000 people are now banned.
In a public address, city officials have announced a ban on any events in St. Louis that are expected to draw 1,000 or more people, due to concerns over the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Fredrick Echols, head of the St. Louis Health Department, announced the ban at a 3 p.m. press conference. The ban will include a handful of exceptions, including activities at school and religious events.
Mayor Lyda Krewson said she had spoken to St. Louis County Executive Sam Page shortly before the news conference and expected the county would issue a similar restriction on large events.
“This is a pretty devastating situation for a lot of our businesses and a lot of workers,” the mayor said, adding that they struggled with the decision but ultimately decided it was the responsible move for public health.
As part of the announcement, Krewson declared a public health emergency in the city of St. Louis due to the virus. Along with the limits on public events, the city has put a temporary halt to the practice shutting off water for unpaid bills in the interest of making it easy for people to wash their hands — one of the top recommendations from health experts to slow the spread of COVID-19. The city has also begun placing public hand-washing stations with soap and water around downtown.
There are no known cases of the coronavirus in the city, and only one in St. Louis County. But Echols said they know it’s coming.
“It’s really not a question of if, but when,” he said.
So far, three people have been tested for the virus in the city, and more than twenty have self-quarantined in the city and county, Echols said. The city checks in with those self-quarantining twice a day, and the doctor said there have been no compliance issues.
Tests have been limited, because of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines restricting who is eligible for tests. The United States has lagged far behind other countries in testing potential patients, which experts say has almost certainly masked the extent of the problem. Echols said the city has a limited number of tests — he wouldn’t divulge how many — but private labs have begun to offer them.
St. Louis Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson, who oversees the city’s EMS operations, said they started getting calls about coronavirus concerns at the end of January. They have changed some protocols in responding to calls in order to limit any spread, but he said the majority of cases they’re seeing are still colds and flu.
“I want to remind everyone to say calm,” Jenkerson said.
Krewson echoed that message.
“We do need to go ahead and live our lives,” the mayor said, saying she has continued to go to restaurants and support local businesses. “Double tip your servers if you can possibly afford it.”
"Today, in order to be proactive and protect and safeguard the health and safety of the public, @STLCityGov and @CityofSTLDOH are declaring a public health emergency and are prohibiting events with attendees in excess of 1,000 people until further notice," Mayor Lyda Krewson writes on Twitter.
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