Gov. Mike Parson said Friday his goal of getting some Missouri businesses up and running by May 4 can be achieved.
Parson announced on Thursday that he was extending his statewide stay-at-home order until May 3, mainly to ensure parts of the state would be able to reopen.
With that goal, he laid out a four-pronged approach: increase the state’s testing capacity and personal protective equipment reserves, if necessary expand health care facilities, and be able to predict potential outbreaks.
“I believe those things are going to happen,” Parson said. “Testing is all part of it, but again, how many people’s in the hospital, how many ICU beds are being filled, how many people’s on ventilators? You’re going to see a tremendous amount of tests before May the 4th, I believe that.”
Parson said he wants to double the state’s testing capacity by next week, and wants to reach 10,000 tests per day “in the near future.” As of Friday, the state, including private labs, had tested 53,525 people.
Dr. Sharon Frey, an infectious disease researcher at St. Louis University’s Center for Vaccine Development, said she thinks Parson’s goal is a lofty one.
“We’re only looking at two weeks from now, and my understanding is that the number of tests for the people who are infected, (those tests) are still not available enough to test all those people,” she said. “We’re only testing people with more severe systems, knowing full well that we’re not testing everybody who has the disease, so I don’t think we can get that testing accomplished by May 3.”
Dr. Alex Garza, head of the St. Louis Pandemic Task Force, said he agrees with several of Parson’s steps in getting the state back to some sense of normal, but the date isn’t something to get hung up on.
“The things the governor laid out, I don’t think anyone disagrees with,” Garza said. “We have to have more testing … and that’s so we can get a better idea of what the prevalence of disease is in our communities. How much disease is there? Right now, because of the lack of testing supplies, we really don’t know what the extent is of disease in the community.”
Garza also agrees the state needs to increase personal protective equipment reserves but didn’t seem optimistic that enough would be ready by May 4.
“We’re still operating as hospital systems under crisis standard of care, which means we don’t have all of the PPE we would wish to have,” Garza said. “Anything we can do to ramp up production or get more supplies, we’re certainly in favor of.”
Frey said that before stay-at-home orders should be lifted, the state needs to figure out who has antibodies against the virus. The test for that is different from the one used to detect the virus.
“That would give us some comfort that people were infected and may have some protection against becoming reinfected,” she said. “We don’t even know if people can become reinfected at this point and what level of antibodies they should have to be protected.”
Parson said not all businesses will be ready to reopen in a couple of weeks; densely populated areas like St. Louis and Kansas City that were hit hardest will likely take longer to lift their stay-at-home orders. St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson said that she and Parson are in contact, and that he is in “full support” of letting local officials decide when it is safe to lift orders. Krewson on Thursday indefinitely extended the city’s stay-at-home order.
One part of Parson’s plan that Garza would like to see changed is expanding health care facilities or capacities. Garza said if hospitals need more beds or if field hospitals need to be built, that means the state isn’t stopping the spread of the virus.
“Where we could use some assistance as well is preventing transmission instead of increasing health care capacity,” Garza said. “If we increase the capacity, that means we already have an increased number of cases, and, again, the objective is to decrease the number of cases.”
Parson has said that he believes social distancing measures will likely be in place until June, and May 4 is not a strict deadline for reopening parts of the state. It is something he will continue to monitor on a daily basis with health professionals, but he remains confident in the timeline.
Frey said that for the final part of Parson’s plan, which is to be able to better predict outbreaks of the virus, there needs to be ongoing monitoring — similar to how the U.S. monitors the flu, which takes time.
“The fear is if you put people out in the workforce after the numbers start coming down, the admissions start coming down, the deaths start coming down and there’s still coronavirus circulating, then those numbers are going to go back up again,” Frey said. “There’s a good chance there’s going to be a second increase of coronavirus cases, so we don’t want to be in a real big hurry to do this, because if that happens, then we have to start all over again.”