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State gets grant to prepare for coronavirus outbreak

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JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri has received $9.9 million in federal aid to tackle the coronavirus crisis, and most of the money will be going toward testing and treating patients. Randall Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, told legislators Tuesday that the department is developing guidelines on how the money will be spent. “As funding was proposed, it was so important that most of that money comes to local government and health officials,” Williams told the Joint Committee on Disaster Preparedness and Awareness. Jackie Gatz, representing the Missouri Hospital Association, said her organization started getting personal protective equipment on Feb. 3 to protect providers on the front lines of the outbreak. Gatz said that 75% of hospitals in Missouri have responded “adequate” in terms of supply quantity. Missouri currently has over 1,000 tests available and only 40 have been used. The state is broadening who can get the tests. They will now be open to all those over age 65 or with a chronic condition who meet the symptoms of 100.4 degree fever and hacking cough, live in the geographical area of an outbreak or have had known contact with a carrier. The expected cost of a test is $120. According to Williams, 81% of those who test positive will have mild symptoms, 14% need hospitalization, 4% need ventilator support and 2% will die. If a patient tests positive with mild symptoms, the health department will be informed and will contact local officials, who will require the patient to self-quarantine for 14 days. During this time, the patient will have check-ups with officials on the status of their health. In order for patients to be cleared, they have to then test negative for the virus twice.

Former Sen. Rob Schaaf, a physician, testified that prisons were in serious danger and that an outbreak is inevitable. Schaaf also said that the rate of patients diagnosed with the disease doubles every four to six days and, therefore, the legislature should “drop everything else and just focus on coronavirus.” While the rate of spread is expected to slow down at some point, the vice chairman of the committee, Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, agreed with Schaaf that the statistic could cause trouble in Missouri. People from all across the state congregate at the Capitol in close quarters. “If it makes sense to start working from home, I think we can certainly make that happen,” Eigel said. “We certainly have the technology to be able to do that.” According to a bipartisan news release from House and Senate leaders, the legislature strongly discourages Missourians from visiting the Capitol. “As with any other infectious disease, we need to remain vigilant because populations we may come in contact with, such as the elderly or those with weakened immune systems, are at risk,” Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, said. The floor of the House chamber and the third floor House Lounge, known for its Thomas Hart Benton murals, will be off-limits to the public, according to the release. In terms of school and university closings, Williams said he believes it is best to leave that decision up to local commissions and school boards.

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