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story.lead_photo.caption Gov. Mike Parson gives a press briefing Tuesday, March 17, 2020, on the status of coronavirus spread in Missouri. Photo by Liv Paggiarino / Fulton Sun.
For more news about the COVID-19 coronavirus, access the News Tribune Health section.

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic will likely last for months, Gov. Mike Parson declared Tuesday, the same day officials announced Cole County has its first confirmed case.

"I do believe that we're going to be in this status for some time," Parson said at a news conference outside his office Tuesday evening. "I don't believe the coronavirus is going to be over in a week or two. I believe we have to consider that this is going to be here for months."

About two hours before Parson spoke to media, Cole County Health Director Kristi Campbell announced health officials confirmed the first case in the county. The victim had come into contact with the virus while traveling. Little other information was available.

On Friday, Parson declared a state of emergency over the spread of COVID-19 in the state. He asked all events including 50 or more people be canceled to help stop the spread of the disease.

On Tuesday, he ordered all casinos in the state to close.

Missouri Gaming Commission Chairman Mike Leara earlier Tuesday said the impact of the shutdown could mean up to $1 million a day in lost revenue for the state. He said once local governments began taking actions in recent days to limit public gatherings to no more than 50, it became apparent the casinos couldn't remain open.

As of Tuesday, about 445 of 550 schools in the state are closed, Parson said.

In one day, between Monday and Tuesday, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Missouri went from eight to 15. Then early Wednesday, a 16th case, located in Kansas City, was reported.

There is one case each in Cole, Boone, Henry and Jackson counties and the city of St. Louis. There were two confirmed cases in Cass County and four each in Green and St. Louis counties. Parson said 253 people had tested negative for the virus.

"A lot has happened over the past week," Parson said.

The state is working with Washington University and the University of Missouri to develop testing.

"One of the things we're trying to do is improve testing here in the state of Missouri. We are teaming up with them," Parson said.

In the near future, Missouri will have the ability to do 1,000 tests per day in the labs, Parson said. The state lab can currently conduct about 1,600 tests daily.

A drive-thru testing site has been set up in Chesterfield, he said.

MU HealthCare is also working on implementation of a drive-thru test site in Columbia.

With the help of the National Guard, Missouri has the ability to set up about 500 testing sites throughout the state.

"They could be on-site. They could be mobile sites across the state," Parson said. "Again, partnering with the private sector to be able to bring those services and try to move those testing sites away from the hospitals themselves."

Coronaviruses make up a large family of viruses. Some cause illnesses in people, while others infect only animals. Rarely, animal coronaviruses have emerged to infect people and can spread between people. This is suspected to have happened for the virus that causes COVID-19. The current virus was first detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Early infections were widely linked to live animal markets, but the virus is now spreading from person to person.

Data indicate COVID-19 poses a higher risk of death for older patients and for those with compromised immune systems. Younger people are generally not affected as severely unless they have an underlying health issue.

Officials recommend social distancing to help prevent the spread of the disease. They also recommend frequent hand washing for 20 seconds at a time, using hot water to help prevent the spread of the virus.

Another concern people shared is whether there is enough equipment to prevent hospital workers and first responders from being infected when they see COVID-19 patients, Parson said.

The state is providing 370,000 units of Personal Protective Equipment (hazard suits) for local agencies, he continued.

The products are loaded on trucks and will be delivered in the next few days, he said. Once those are distributed, the state will replenish the supply, Parson said.

Parson said he's participated in conference calls between governors and the president and vice president of the United States. The federal leaders have emphasized the need to move quickly to get products to the local level.

"The reality is that it's not a funding issue — it's more of a production issue," Parson said. "Having to produce the products and get them to us. I think all hands are on deck to make sure that happens."

Missouri residents will have to participate in common-sense practices to help prevent the spread of disease. Parson said it would be a daily fight.

"This is going to come down to personal responsibility," Parson said. "How we conduct ourselves with one another in this state. What we do to help one another, to prevent the coronavirus from spreading. It will come down to all of us and be all of our personal responsibility."

Across the state, steps were being taken to protect people from the virus.

Officials in St. Louis, St. Louis County and St. Charles County announced restaurants and bars are prohibited from offering dine-in service which will go into effect at midnight Thursday. Kansas City enacted a similar ban that began Tuesday.

Columbia Mayor Brian Treece said to expect an order from the city's public health director Tuesday directing bars and restaurants in the college town to cut their capacity in half or limit occupants to 50 people, including staff.

At St. Louis' Gateway Arch, the visitor center, museum and grounds remained open, but the tram that transports visitors to the top of the Arch was shut down until further notice.

At St. Louis City Hall, visitors were being scanned for fevers before entering the building. The scan involved non-contact infrared thermometers. St. Louis Circuit Court suspended all jury trials through April 10.

Meanwhile, the top prosecutors in St. Louis city and county took actions to ease jail crowding and reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell said in a statement anyone arrested for a nonviolent crime who does not appear to pose a threat will be released with a summons to appear in court, rather than be jailed. People already housed at the county justice center awaiting trial will be considered for release if they are accused of a nonviolent or "low-level" crime, Bell said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This article was edited at 7:46 a.m. March 18, 2020, to reflect a 16th novel coronavirus case was reported.

For more news about the COVID-19 coronavirus, access the News Tribune Health section.
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