As a legislative session under extraordinary circumstances draws to a close today, Gov. Mike Parson said Thursday he expects more withholds from the state's budget will be needed before July 1.
The state Legislature returned in April after weeks of precautionary absence to pass a supplemental budget to get the state through the end of the fiscal year, June 30, and to accept billions of dollars in emergency federal aid for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Though there may be more aid received from the federal government, Parson anticipated more withholds in the month ahead.
The state has already withheld approximately $227 million from the 2020 budget, with the first $180 million round of restrictions most severely affecting colleges and universities.
Parson did not immediately give details for how much more he thinks may be withheld or from which state departments.
Legislators returned again later last month to pass a budget for 2021, and work on other bills has continued since.
The social distancing legislators practiced during the supplemental budget process — and that legislative leaders said they would continue to adhere to in returning — has largely disappeared from the past couple weeks' work, especially in the House, with a regularly crowded House chamber, representatives sitting or standing close to each other, and increasingly fewer lawmakers wearing masks.
House leaders did not respond to questions from the News Tribune regarding why the House has seemingly gone with a more relaxed approach to social distancing and face masks over the past couple of weeks.
Jonathan Lorenz, director of Senate Communications, said there's been no specific directive from Senate leadership for that body's members, but the size of the chamber and space between lawmakers' desks has lent itself for social distancing.
Though Parson continues to stress social distancing for members of the public — and people and businesses must continue to take precautions through at least the end of the month, — Parson said it's up to the Legislature how they conduct themselves.
"Social distancing is in effect for everyone. But again, it's a little different circumstances when you've got 163 members in the (House) chamber. There's different ways you can do that; I guess, I would think of, being a former legislator, but the reality of it is that's up to them to decide how they're going to conduct that," Parson said.
As lawmakers wrap up their work for the regular session, the state is meanwhile receiving more doses of an experimental antiviral drug — enough to treat all the COVID-19 patients in the state who are on ventilators, said Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
Parson said 796 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 and 115 people were on ventilators — leaving 1,947 ventilators available.
The state was to receive enough of the experimental drug remdesivir earlier this week to give to approximately 600 patients, and Williams said a further 1,800 vials would be distributed over the weekend — enough for every patient on a ventilator to receive remdesivir.
Remdesivir is a broad-spectrum antiviral medication developed by U.S. biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences. The drug was originally born from research into hepatitis C and respiratory syncytial virus, but the company began to investigate its use against emerging diseases in 2014 amid the spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa.
Remdesivir does not yet have approval for use anywhere in the world, according to the company, but while clinical trials are ongoing during the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. is among the countries where remdesivir is being made available for compassionate care use for patients with severe cases of COVID-19.