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St. Louis County's new COVID-19 restrictions: What they are and how they affect you

Because the new health orders affect so many people, the county has listed the answers to several frequently asked questions

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — Three new public health orders go into effect Tuesday in St. Louis County, bringing about changes that will impact just about all of the county’s approximately 1 million residents.

The tighter restrictions are in response to a surge of new COVID-19 cases. On Monday, the county reported more than 1,000 new cases of COVID-19 – a single-day record.

“Our hospitals are nearly full, frontline workers are worn out. We can’t responsibly wait any longer to get the virus in check,” Page said Friday morning while announcing the new restrictions. “These steps will help.”

The three new orders are:

  • Safer at home – residents urged to stay home and only go out for essentials or necessary business
  • Face mask changes – all residents 6 years old and older required to wear masks in public
  • Isolation and quarantine changes – residents asked to take personal responsibility in reaching out to close contacts after being diagnosed with COVID-19, residents should not wait for a call from contact tracers to quarantine or isolate

Included in those orders are bans on gatherings of more than 10 people, a renewed ban on indoor dining at restaurants and bars and a reduction in business capacity from 50% to 25%.

More information about each of the new public health orders is available on the St. Louis County health department’s website. More details also are included toward the bottom of this story.

READ MORE: St. Louis County’s new COVID-19 restrictions

Because the new health orders affect so many people, the county has listed the answers to several frequently asked questions. All of the information can be found on the county's coronavirus information website. You can read the details, questions and answers provided by the county below.

If I see someone violating the Department of Public Health order, what should I do?

Alleged violations of the Orders should be reported to the Department of Public Health through the Contact Us tab on the stlcorona.com website. You will need to provide date, time, location, and name of business of where the alleged violation occurred and the nature of the violation.

Someone told me that I am a contact, and that I should quarantine. What does this mean? When will I hear from the Department of Public Health?

Due to the extremely high volume of cases, we have changed the way we communicate with people about isolation and quarantine. All people who have been notified that they were in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 are responsible for following the quarantine instructions here. You must stay in quarantine for a full 14 days after your last exposure to a person with COVID-19, regardless of whether you yourself experience any symptoms. There is no longer a formal release from quarantine process. You may not be contacted by the Department of Public Health.

I tested positive, and I haven’t heard from the Department of Public Health yet. What should I do?

If you test positive for COVID-19, you must isolate, regardless of whether you receive a call. Instructions are available here. You must also notify everyone you were in close contact with while you were infectious that they need to quarantine. Instructions for quarantine are available here.

If you have the virus, you need to be released from isolation by a physician according to CDC guidelines to make sure that you don’t infect others.

I planned an event (holiday party, wedding, family gathering et al) and it takes place after the order goes into effect. What do you recommend I do?

DPH recommends that you do not gather unless it is absolutely necessary. If you do gather, you must be in a group of no more than 10, and all participants must wear masks and practice social distancing. We understand that this can be very disappointing and may place a financial burden on you, but at this time, we cannot permit these types of activities due to the level of risk associated with all types of gatherings. Across the country, we have seen many examples of COVID-19 spreading at these types of events.

What if I can’t run or work out while wearing a mask? What should I do?

Many people have found that they actually can work out while wearing a mask. If this is not comfortable to you, you may want to work out outside far away from others or work out inside your residence.

When do I have to wear a mask in my own house? Why?

You should not allow guests in your home while the order is in effect, but if someone must come over, you both need to be masked for the duration of the visit.

If a member of your household tests positive for COVID-19, you should wear a mask whenever you are in the same room as the infected person.

What if I want to form a “support bubble”, what do I do? How does it work?

You and your family are safest in your own home. If you must see others outside of your household to meet your social and emotional needs, you may form a support bubble of no more than 10 people total, including family members or friends. These groups must be established, and even when a group gathers, all participants should practice masking, social distancing and other steps to reduce the risk of transmission. And if any member of such a bubble gets sick, that person must immediately notify the other members. If you participate in a support bubble, you should understand that this puts you at additional risk of exposure. The Department of Public Health will be releasing further recommendations for support bubbles in the coming days.

What about the holidays coming up?

Avoid gathering with anyone outside your immediate household this winter. Eating meals with others – even extended family members and friends – poses risks of transmission. Make sure you stay at least six feet away from others outside your household or support bubble at all times. Avoid all gatherings, especially large ones. Wear a mask in public places and wherever you might be near others. If you must gather, choose outdoor settings over indoor ones whenever possible. And be meticulous about washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds several times a day.
As you plan for winter holiday celebrations, know that any activity involving people outside your household can be risky – and may even be deadly. Staying home is the only truly safe option.

What about schools? Should my child go to school in-person?

Children are still allowed to go to school in person under the Safer at Home order if the school offers in-person education options. Each school district is making decisions about what is best for its students.

I have to work outside of my home to support my family. Are you telling me I can’t do that?

You are permitted to work outside of your home if it is not possible for you to work from home. You must take precautions: wear a mask, maintain social distance when possible, wash your hands frequently, and stay home when you are sick.

No one else in the region is doing this. How is that fair?

We can’t control the decisions of others in the region, but we can control the actions we take to protect our families and our community. Because of our large population, any actions taken in St. Louis County can benefit the region more broadly. As of Nov. 12, 643 residents of St. Louis County are being diagnosed with COVID-19 per day, and this number has been rising dramatically. More than 900 County residents have already died. The Pandemic Task Force has warned us that regional hospitals are reaching capacity and there are health workforce shortages. Every day that we allow this virus to circulate unchecked, we are putting each other at risk.

Why do we have to do this?

We understand that these orders will cause major disruptions to all of our lives. Unfortunately, the virus is everywhere in our community and our hospitals are overwhelmed. To protect ourselves and our families and to lessen the burden on our hospitals so they can take care of everyone who is sick, we must slow the spread of the virus. Even if you or someone close to you gets the virus but does not personally suffer serious health consequences, anyone who has the virus can spread it to others who might not be so lucky.

St. Louis County's new COVID-19 restrictions:

Safer at home

County residents are asked to stay at home and only go out for essential business and necessities. Essential reasons to leave the house include going to get food or groceries, going to work, getting medical care, going to places of worship and visiting others in their bubble.

Social bubbles should be limited to 10 people, including friends and family. All social gatherings also are limited to 10 people.

Indoor dining will be banned, but restaurants and bars can continue to offer patio seating, curbside and takeout.

All businesses are limited to 25% capacity, which is a reduction again from the 50% that was allowed.

Despite the restrictions, Page encouraged residents to continue supporting local small businesses, especially restaurants and bars.

"Please tip them generously. These are the folks that are hustling to make sure that you have to-go meals that you can enjoy in your home," he said.

Full details about the "Safer at Home" order can be found on the St. Louis County Department of Public Health website.

Face mask changes

Face masks must be worn by everyone 6 years old and older when they leave their house. This includes when visiting someone else’s house. An exception can be made while eating or drinking as long as social distancing is being practiced.

Masks must be worn at gyms while working out and at sports settings, except while actively playing.

Page said while 3-5-year-olds aren’t required to wear masks, it is strongly encouraged.

Exceptions to the mask rule continue to include those with medical conditions that prevent them from wearing a mask.

Full details about the new mask order can be found on the St. Louis County Department of Public Health website.

Isolation and quarantine orders

Page said the number of new cases is so extreme, that contact tracers and the county health department can’t keep up with the number of people testing positive and all of the people who’ve been exposed.

The health department is reaching out to as many people as possible, “but we won’t be able to get to everyone,” Page said.

With this in mind, the county is asking people to take more personal responsibility when it comes to isolating, quarantining and contacting those who might have been exposed to the virus.

Page laid out the following new guidelines:

  • If you test positive: Isolate for 10 days from the point of time you either tested positive or had symptoms. Tell everyone you had close contact with so they can quarantine for 14 days. Close contacts include anyone you were within 6 feet of for 15 minutes or more over a 24 hour period – even if you were both wearing a mask. Do not wait for contact tracers to reach out to you or your close contacts.
  • If you were exposed: If someone calls to tell you they tested positive and you are considered a close contact, you’re asked to quarantine for 14 days after the last contact with the patient. Do not wait for a contact tracer to call you. If you start developing symptoms, remain quarantined and notify anyone you might have had close contact with.

Page said the health department will no longer be providing a “release from quarantine/isolation” letter. Primary care physicians will be able to do this instead.

Full details about the new quarantine and isolation order can be found on the St. Louis County Department of Public Health website.

READ ALSO: Missouri Restaurant Association joins lawsuit challenging St. Louis County COVID-19 restrictions on indoor dining

The St. Louis County Department of Public Health reported 1,061 new COVID-19 cases Monday, bringing the cumulative total to 42,043 cases.

The seven-day average of new cases is now at 749, which is a 29% increase over the previous seven days.

To date, 917 county residents have died due to the virus.

“Our regional health care leaders are sounding an alarm. It's not a matter of if they cannot provide care to everyone, it's a matter of when,” County Executive Sam Page said Monday morning during a scheduled briefing to address the pandemic.

He further explained that doesn't just apply to COVID-19 patients. Busy hospitals affect anyone needing urgent medical care, including those who suffer heart attacks or strokes, are injured in car crashes or have been involved in a violent crime.

“We are in a dire situation two weeks away from our hospitals and health care providers making these difficult choices," Page said.