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Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on Thursday extended the statewide stay-at-home order through  May 3, hoping that buys enough time for the state to start reopening its economy one bit at a time.

Parson also outlined what the plan for that re-opening will involve, if it is to be successful in getting people back to work while also protecting their health.

As of Thursday afternoon, there were 5,111 reported cases of COVID-19 in Missouri, with 152 deaths.

Parson had cautious optimism "that we are beginning to slow the course of the infection, and see improvements across Missouri, even in our hardest hit areas, like St. Louis and Kansas City."

He said hospitals continue to have capacity to treat patients, and that capacity has been expanded in case a surge in cases occurs.

He said the statewide stay-at-home order has been extended "so we can prepare to reopen the economy and get Missourians back to work.

"Between now and May 4, we will continue to monitor the situation and work with Missouri hospitals, health care providers, public health experts, business leaders and state departments to develop a plan, with the safety of Missourians at its core. Our approach will be deliberate and data-driven."

Parson explained some of the initial framework for that approach, "which will support a more detailed plan to safely and gradually move into a recovery phase of COVID-19."

The plan will come in two initial phases, " intended to protect those most at risk of exposure to COVID-19 and return Missouri to a new normal: first, to protect our health care workers, first responders and other direct care workers, so that our most vulnerable citizens have access to the care they need; second, strategically re-open businesses supported by testing data and insights from employers and employees."

Parson said the "Show-Me Strong Recovery Plan" rests on four pillars:

Rapid expansion of the capacity to test people for infection of COVID-19, including those still contagious, as well as those who've developed immunity. Parson hoped to be able to conduct at least 10,000 tests per day, and wants the current capacity doubled within a week.

Expand the reserves of personal protective equipment, such as gloves, masks and gowns. Parson wants to "open public and private supply chains," and continue to involve Missouri businesses in the effort.

Continue to monitor hospital and health care systems' capacity, and expand it as necessary, including alternate care facilities. The state this week opened its first such facility, at a converted Quality Inn hotel in Florissant.

Improve the ability to predict potential COVID-19 outbreaks, "using Missouri's public health data," including localized data of hospitalization of known and presumed cases; population density and mobility; lab test results; and health care facility capacity for treatment, including the availability of hospital beds and ventilators.

"The best thing we can do is re-open this state for everyone, and be smart about it — take our time, re-open it, make sure we get businesses back up and going, people back to work, and still protecting them," Parson said.

He added that the success of reopening the state will also involve developing the public's trust that it's safe to go back out again.

That won't make the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 go away.

"This virus is going to be around for several more months," Parson said. "People are going to continue to get sick. People are going to continue to die from this virus. But we've got to make sure to get all the care we can to protect people, and to be able do that, but we've also got to be able to open up the economy and do both at the same time."

While the current focus is the pandemic at hand, Parson said, the state will "look back at this and see what we could do differently, and how we do it better, and frankly, how we prepare for that next time."

Parson first issued a stay-at-home order April 3. The order took effect April 6 and was originally scheduled to last through April 24.

It was possible for Parson to extend the order to May 15 — to match but not exceed the duration of the state of emergency that Missouri is under through an executive order he issued March 13.

That state of emergency can itself be extended.

This article was updated at 4:45 p.m. April 16, 2020, with additional details.

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