Number of Missouri COVID-19 cases jumps by nearly 300; 4 state parks closed

A man walks past barricades at an entrance to Tower Grove Park Tuesday, March 31, 2020, in St. Louis. The entrance to the park has been closed to vehicle traffic in an effort to give visitors on foot more room to practice social distancing and help slow the spread of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

O'FALLON, Mo. (AP) — The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Missouri jumped by nearly 300 on Tuesday, even as calls for a statewide stay-at-home mandate increased.

The state health department said 14 people have died and 1,327 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, have been confirmed. That was a 28.7% increase from the 1,031 confirmed cases on Monday.

Republican Gov. Mike Parson has banned gatherings of more than 10 people statewide, but has declined to follow the lead of nearly two dozen other states that have required people to stay at home except in exceptional circumstances. Several health care organizations and Democratic politicians such as St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page and Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway — who is running for governor — have called for a statewide stay-at-home order.

The order in St. Louis hasn't resonated with all. It allows outdoor exercise as long as people practice social distancing. City officials are concerned about large gatherings at parks and playgrounds, so much so that playgrounds have been closed, streets in parks have been closed to vehicles, and electronic signs have been placed at various places urging people to stay apart.

City officials said they also were considering going to court to close churches that don't observe a ban on assemblies of more than 10 people after citing two churches for Sunday gatherings, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Meanwhile, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources will close four state parks because of overcrowding, starting at 5 p.m. Thursday. They are Castlewood State Park in Ballwin; Elephant Rocks State Park in Belleview; Watkins Woolen Mill State Historic Site and Park in Lawson; and Weston Bend State Park in Weston.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

Civil rights organizations, doctors and others are calling for the release of as many pretrial detainees as possible during the pandemic.

The Missouri Supreme Court on Monday made it clear local judges are mandated to make such decisions. Last week, a coalition of more than 30 organizations and medical professions urged the Supreme Court to order the release of county jail detainees awaiting trial for nonviolent crimes and those in high-risk categories based on their age or medical condition.

St. Louis city and county released nearly 150 inmates last week. Jackson County released about 80.

The Missouri Sheriff's Association said it opposed the "sweeping release of offenders," citing a variety of concerns, including victim safety and the possibility that suspects could commit new crimes.

Among the confirmed illnesses are eight employees of Annie Gunn's in Chesterfield, often ranked among the best restaurants in the Midwest. Owners Thom and Jane Sehnert said in a statement that the restaurant closed March 19 and that none of the workers experienced or reported symptoms prior to then. The statement said the restaurant is undergoing "extensive professional disinfecting."

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Hollingsworth reported from Mission, Kansas.