JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMIZ)
People can safely enjoy Missouri during the COVID-19 pandemic by using proper precautions, state officials said Thursday.
A new $15 million program is meant to help get that message across.
Gov. Mike Parson and Missouri Economic Development Director Rob Dixon announced the program Thursday at Parson's regular COVID-19 briefing in the Capitol.
Watch a replay of the briefing below.
The funding, made available through the federal COVID-19 stimulus bill known as the CARES Act, will be distributed in grants to local tourism marketing organizations such as convention and visitors bureaus.
“When the COVID-19 health emergency hit Missouri, the tourism and hospitality industry nearly shut down completely,” Dixon said. “This funding will help our tourism industry make our state’s many attractions and activities safer and reinforce messaging to encourage visitors to come to Missouri and safely enjoy all there is to see and do here."
Missouri's top public health official, Dr. Randall Williams, when asked what he would tell potential tourists coming to Missouri, said that anyone can enjoy the state's attractions safely despite the pandemic.
"No matter where you’re from … we just really, really want to emphasize that if you use good hand washing and you social distance and if you can’t social distance you use a face mask, we feel really good with that," Williams said.
Williams said there's a cost-benefit calculation between the health benefits of travel and outdoor activities and the risk of travel during the pandemic.
The pandemic has hit most economic sectors hard, but particularly the tourism and hospitality sector. Dixon said more than 40 percent of Americans say they have no plans to travel for the rest of the year.
Based on reports from the Missouri Department of Revenue, sales revenue from the tourism industry dropped by about $266 million January through March of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.
The Division of Tourism also reported Lodging Missouri has lost $532.2 million in lodging sales from mid-March through July 11.
Cases continue to surge around the country and in Missouri. Some states have started to rollback openings amid those rising cases.
Dixon said the state must learn how to get business going again because the virus will not go away.
"This is a new normal for the world economy, it’s a new normal for our state’s economy, and we’re going to have to go about doing business with the virus around us," Dixon said.
Missouri's economy is improving, Parson said. Unemployment dropped from 10.1 percent in May to 7.9 percent in June. About one-third of workers laid off in the early days of the pandemic have returned to their jobs, he said.
Officials also on Thursday announced the start of the Show Me Strong Pledge campaign, in which businesses and individuals can get a certificate for following best practices to stop the novel coronavirus such as wearing a face covering, social distancing and practicing good hand hygiene.
The campaign also has a social media component.
Backlog of 7,000 test results
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has a backlog of about 7,000 COVID-19 test results have have not been entered into its reporting database.
Williams said the cases amount to about a four-day backlog. The department is training more workers to enter the data, Williams said.
However, the backlog is not delaying reporting positive results to patients, Williams said.
Williams said the state's rolling seven-day average of new positives is at about 3 percent.