BRANSON, Mo. (AP) -- A surge in coronavirus cases is proving worrisome in the popular southwestern Missouri tourist destination of Branson.
Confirmed cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, have more than doubled in less than two weeks in Taney County, where Branson is located, the Kansas City Star reported. On June 26, the county had recorded just 43 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic. That figure has more than doubled since then, standing at 107 cases and two COVID-19 deaths as of Wednesday.
Branson, with its wide array of shows and attractions, is among the most popular tourist destinations in the Midwest. Community leaders are now stressing the need for face coverings, though they have stopped short of requiring people to wear them.
"We knew they would increase once we opened back up," said Sheila Wyatt, a Taney County commissioner. "But we didn't know it would be so quickly. ... We have to do what we can to keep the numbers down. I believe the desire is that people will be responsible on their own and heed the advice of the experts."
575 NEWLY CONFIRMED CASES
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services on Wednesday raised the state's tally of confirmed COVID-19 cases since the pandemic started by 575, to 25,204. It raised the death toll from the disease by four, to 1,046.
Missouri reported a total of 1,348 new cases in just two days, Tuesday and Wednesday.
Three counties in southwestern Missouri have been particularly hard hit, according to state data. Confirmed cases jumped by 283 over the past two weeks in Jasper County, by 158 in McDonald County and by 156 in Newton County. The state has been testing heavily in that region due to outbreaks at meat plants.
ST. LOUIS RESUMES EVICTIONS
The St. Louis Sheriff's Office is set to resume eviction procedures now that a citywide moratorium on evictions has ended.
The city adopted the moratorium in March because of the coronavirus, but it ended Tuesday. Deputy Gregg Christian told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that evictions are "part of the job," and that the department has no choice but to enforce the orders.
The decision to resume evictions was up to the circuit court, St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson said. It wasn't clear how many people could lose their homes, but Radhakrishnan Gopalan, a finance professor at Washington University, said he was worried it could be many given the extraordinarily high jobless rate.
"The fact the COVID cases are increasing means even the opening up that we did might not be long lived as we go back to shutdown. We are not going to get anywhere close to full employment anywhere in the future," Gopalan said.
Nationwide, U.S. Census data shows that about 19% of renters were late or deferred their rent payments in May. And about 31% of renters surveyed in June said they had little to no confidence they would be able to pay the next month's rent.
The court's decision to resume evictions drew about 30 protesters to City Hall on Tuesday for an "anti-eviction rally."
"People aren't working. People don't have money," said Sarah Watkins, a rally organizer with Action STL. "People haven't paid rent since the pandemic began in April. People will be on the street."
The number of confirmed cases inside Missouri prisons since the start of the pandemic continues to grow.
Information from the Missouri Department of Corrections shows that 193 inmates across the state have tested positive for COVID-19, though just one has died. The state lists just 45 as recovered because many of the cases were discovered through recent testing.
The Corrections Department said 60 staff members also have tested positive for the coronavirus and 18 have recovered.
Two prisons in St. Francois County have been hit hardest -- the prison in Bonne Terre has reported infections for 50 inmates and eight staff members, and the prison in Farmington has illnesses among 54 inmates and five staff members. An earlier outbreak at the facility in Charleston infected 47 inmates and 19 staff members.