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story.lead_photo.caption Gov. Mike Parson gives the daily coronavirus press briefing on Saturday at the Missouri Capitol. There will be no press briefing on Sunday, but the briefings will resume Monday. Photo by Liv Paggiarino / News Tribune.
For more news about the COVID-19 coronavirus, access the News Tribune Health section.

In addition to anticipated restrictions on social gatherings and visits to food and drink establishments and residential facilities where senior citizens are congregated, Missouri's governor announced Saturday measures intended to help protect and serve vulnerable populations, including families in need of child care services, as the COVID-19 pandemic crisis continues.

As of Saturday night, there were 90 confirmed cases in Missouri of the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19. On Friday, the death coronavirus death toll in the state increased to three — one each in Boone, Jackson and St. Louis counties.

As testing for the virus expands, reported cases are expected to continue to increase.

In Cole County, as of noon Saturday, there had been no new reported cases beyond the three already counted.

Data indicates COVID-19 poses a higher risk of death for older patients and for those with compromised immune systems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has added that the disease is also more fatal for people with asthma and for pregnant women. Younger people are generally not affected as severely unless they have an underlying health issue.

The spread of the virus and measures to stop or slow down its spread have also taken a tremendous and growing economic impact, including on the needs of families.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson and members of his administration announced on Saturday measures to help child care facilities, among other responses, during the public health emergency.

Parson said while schools are closed because of the pandemic, licensed child care providers would be allowed to enroll school-age children who need care, beyond their licensed capacities.

"The provider will be permitted to exceed the licensed capacity of the facility by one-third, during this time," Parson said.

He added short-term licensing, for 45 days, will also be available. Those licenses, which could be renewed, would be based on "abbreviated inspection that focuses on key health and safety indicators."

He said the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Service has also loosened some regulations to allow licensed child care providers to extend their hours of care, and ease record-keeping requirements.

Jennifer Tidball, acting director of the Missouri Department of Social Services, said child care benefits are being extended 90 days for individuals who are currently eligible.

The application renewal period for child care provider subsidies has also been extended 90 days.

From the federal government, Tidball said the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act — signed into law last week by President Donald Trump — included two temporary Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.

One benefit is that households already eligible for SNAP, also known as food stamps, will have their maximum allotment increased for the months of March and April.

The other feature of the federal law that DSS will be administering allows families whose children are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches at school to receive an additional SNAP benefit for the months of March, April and May.

"We want to try to ease the burden that families have right now in being able to access SNAP benefits and maintain SNAP benefits," and some administrative steps have been removed to facilitate that, Tidball said — though eligibility requirements have not changed.

All SNAP work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents are being waived for 90 days, according to a news release from Parson's office.

Food stamp adverse action notices and initial program interviews are also being waived for 90 days, and food stamp certification periods have been extended by 6 months, the news release added.

What that latter extension means for families is a family whose certification would have been reviewed this month will not have that review until September, for example — and such a six-month extension will apply to families who were going to be reviewed in March, April and May.

Tidball said additional extensions could be requested as needed.

Order on social distancing measures

Missourians in every part of the state will also imminently see changes to gatherings, eating out and more because of COVID-19.

Parson, as expected, announced an order effective at 12:01 a.m. Monday, March 23, that shall have people in the state:

Avoid social gatherings of 10 or more people.

Avoid eating or drinking at restaurants, bars and food courts. Drive-thru, pickup and delivery will still be allowed.

Not visit nursing homes, long-term care facilities, retirement homes and assisted living homes, unless to provide critical assistance.

People in Cole County were already to be under such orders about gatherings and eating and drinking, effective at the same time Monday as the new statewide order, after the Cole County Health Department issued last week an order of its own.

Parson said Friday that the then-anticipated statewide limit on gatherings would not apply to religious services, hospitals, grocery stores, pharmacies or state government.

People across the state will also still be allowed to visit businesses and locations including gas stations, parks and banks, so long as necessary precautions are taken, including staying at least six feet away from individuals who are not family members.

Schools shall remain closed, but are not prohibited from providing child care and meals to children who qualify. Teachers and staff may enter school buildings so long as they follow social distancing directives.

Offices and workplaces that remain open are to have individuals practice good hygiene, and where feasible, work from home.

"The more that people reduce their public contact, the sooner COVID-19 will be contained and the sooner this order will expire," according to a news release from Parson's office.

The statewide order is in effect until 12:01 a.m., Monday, April 6, unless extended further.

"I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for all citizens to practice social distancing and abide by this order, which is backed by intense deliberation and knowledge," Parson said in the news release.

Tax and registration relief

In addition, tax payment and vehicle registration-related deadlines are being extended, per federal guidance.

Missouri income tax payment deadlines for individuals and corporations with returns due April 15 have been extended until July 15, 2020.

The deadline to file income tax returns has also been extended from April 15 to July 15, 2020.

The tax-related extensions are automatic, and require no action by individuals.

Penalties and interest will on July 16 begin to accrue on unpaid balances. Those who file or request an extension by July 15 will avoid interest and penalties on taxes paid by that date.

Vehicle registrations or license plates that expire this month or in April have been granted an automatic two-month extension. Owners will be able to continue to drive without penalty until they can apply for renewal.

More details about the measures announced Saturday are available at governor.mo.gov/press-releases/archive/governor-parson-protects-missouris-most-vulnerable-citizens-and-workers.

For more news about the COVID-19 coronavirus, access the News Tribune Health section.
 
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