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St. Charles County emerging as new coronavirus hot spot

The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus is rising sharply in some areas near St. Louis, and hospitalizations in the region are starting to increase, too.

Data from the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force shows that the seven-day average for new coronavirus-related hospital admissions in the region is now 29, the highest level since mid-May.

Suburban counties including Jefferson, Franklin and Lincoln have seen steady increases in confirmed cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus. But St. Charles County is emerging as a new hot spot, said Dr. Alex Garza of the pandemic task force.

St. Charles County is Missouri’s third-largest county with 402,000 residents and has reported 690 new confirmed cases over the past 14 days, compared to 153 cases in the previous 14-day period. On Monday, the county cited the deaths of three elderly residents from long-term care facilities, bringing the number of deaths in the county to 80 since the pandemic began.

Concerns are so high at the General Motors plant in Wentzville that about 1,200 third shift workers were laid off Monday, in part because many employees are not reporting to work out of fear of becoming infected, GM spokesman Dave Barnas said. A United Auto Workers official said there have been at least 23 confirmed cases at the plant. The sprawling plant is one of the county’s largest employers.

St. Charles County followed the lead of Gov. Mike Parson in reopening its economy in mid-June, though County Executive Steve Ehlmann, like his fellow Republican Parson, has often urged people to wear facial coverings, maintain social distancing and take other precautionary steps.

Garza said it’s clear that many people are ignoring that advice.

“Again, I think we got lulled into a false sense of security by thinking the virus has either gone away or (is) not as dangerous as we thought it had been, so now it’s seeing a resurgence because of all of those things, unfortunately,” Garza said.

County spokeswoman Mary Enger said Ehlmann and the county health department are monitoring the situation and, if trends continue, “everything is on the table.”

In downtown St. Charles, the popular shops along the red-bricked Main Street are mostly busy despite the pandemic. Many require facial coverings, including the “Missouri Artists on Main” store.

Jack Schwab, a 60-year-old silver jewelry artist, and 63-year-old painter Debbie Wilger said most people who come in abide by the mask policy, but a few have stormed out in anger.

“Being rock-headed Americans, we don’t like to be told what to do,” Schwab said.

Statewide, 27,890 people have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the state health department. That included 447 new cases reported Monday along with 14 new deaths, bringing the state’s death toll to at least 1,083 people.

Springfield has joined the growing list of Missouri jurisdictions requiring facial coverings in most public settings. The City Council approved an emergency ordinance Monday night. St. Louis city and county, Kansas City and Jackson County and several other cities and counties also have mandated masks or other facial coverings in the effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Cases have also risen recently in the Kansas City area, and some businesses in the restaurant and hospitality industries that had reopened are closing again to in-person customers.

Among them is Margarita’s, a popular Mexican restaurant that posted on Facebook over the weekend that it is reverting to curbside and takeout only.

“The safety of our customers and staff is our main priority,” the posting stated.

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