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Health, Science, Environment

Missouri Ready For Expected Coronavirus Cases, Governor Says

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson speaks with St. Louis Public Radio in downtown St. Louis on Nov. 14, 2019.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
In this file photo, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson speaks with St. Louis Public Radio in downtown St. Louis.

Missouri is prepared for the coronavirus that is spreading across the U.S., health officials said Monday.

Gov. Mike Parson said state officials are working with federal and local health departments to track the disease it causes, COVID-19. He expects the federal government will soon distribute money to help the state provide free tests and make other preparations.

“Right now, our main focus is on educating the public on the virus and the steps to prevent it,” Parson said. “We are very well prepared to handle this virus should the need arise.”

No cases have been reported in Missouri, but health officials say the virus likely will soon emerge in the state. Since the virus appeared in China late last year, it has spread to more than 50 countries.

The coronavirus spreads the COVID-19 disease, which first appeared in China. Symptoms include cough, fever and shortness of breath. The disease causes mild respiratory symptoms in the vast majority of patients. However, some cases are severe and lethal. Experts estimate the virus is many times more deadly than the flu and spreads more easily.

Those experiencing potential coronavirus symptoms should call their health provider, said Dr. Randall Williams, director of the state Department of Health and Senior Services.

However, those with symptoms may not be able to get a coronavirus test.

State health officials only are testing people who have had contact with someone who has tested positive, who have traveled to countries affected by the virus, or who have severe unexplained symptoms.

The state-run testing lab in Jefferson City is the only place allowed to administer tests for the disease, Williams said. But the state is limiting who can have a test.

“There’s a finite number of tests we can do,” Williams said. “The question is, 'Can anybody get a test?' The answer is, 'No, you still have to meet criteria,'” he said.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides the test kits for the state lab, Williams said. The first batch of those test kits were flawed and couldn’t provide accurate results.

That means until the state receives more kits, either from a private business or the CDC, the state health department has to be judicious in whom it tests.

The state has hundreds of CDC-provided tests it can use in the meantime, Williams said. The state should have sufficient tests for the number of cases Missouri will likely have in the next weeks, he said, adding the lab director expects more testing kits to arrive in the coming month.

Parson expects federal funding will help with the state response. That could include providing free coronavirus tests for state residents, he said.

“I think those supplies are going to build just because of the nature of everybody’s putting a priority on it,” he said.

The state’s top priority is preventing the virus from spreading, Parson said. The best way to do that is by using good hygiene, including frequent hand washing.

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @petit_smudge

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Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

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