Chef predicts 40% of St. Louis restaurants will go out of business this winter in emotional plea to wear face masks

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ST. LOUIS (KMOX/AP) - Award-winning, and well-known chef and restaurant owner Gerard Craft says St. Louis has been "really lucky" thus far amid the pandemic with comfortable summer weather. But he says that's about to change.

“Winter is coming," Craft said. "And it never has that felt more real. And I think you're going to see somewhere in the realm of 40% of restaurants going out of business as a result of this."

Craft is the owner of Niche Food Group, which operates seven restaurants in the St. Louis area. The James Beard Award winner was invited by the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force to speak during Monday's press conference about what people need to do help slow the spread of COVID-19 this winter.

"If you want to help your local businesses? You want the economy to get going again? Wear the mask. It’s really not that hard," Craft says. "I've always bent over backwards to care for people and to make sure everybody has the best meal and experience they possibly have. But if you try to fight that you need to leave. You're not helping us. You're not helping the community."

Missouri is among several states across the U.S. seeing a spike in confirmed cases and hospitalizations related to the coronavirus. St. Louis-area hospital officials say they are at about 90% capacity.

“Think about what this means to you and your family member, if you get sick,” said Dr. Alex Garza, who heads the St. Louis task force. “Will there be a hospital to be able to care for you? Will they have space for your family member? Will the doctors, and the nurses, and the techs be on top of their game, or will they be exhausted and fatigued?”

In the early days of the pandemic, most people hospitalized in the St. Louis region were local. Now, “We’re getting patients from everywhere,” Garza said. “We have requests for transfers from hundreds of miles away.”

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