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How Missouri lawmakers are preparing state for potential coronavirus outbreak


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri lawmakers in both chambers will study the spread of the novel coronavirus and the state’s preparedness in the coming weeks as the disease continues to spread globally. 

Thousands of people have died as the virus has spread to about 50 countries. There have been 14 confirmed cases in the U.S., including 12 related to travel and two spread person-to-person, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) latest data. 

The virus has been named “SARS-CoV-2” while the disease is called “coronavirus disease 2019,” or “COVID-19.” It can cause severe respiratory illnesses with symptoms such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath, the CDC has warned. 

Although there have been no confirmed cases in Missouri thus far, the Joint Committee on Disaster Preparedness and Awareness will convene on March 10 to discuss the coronavirus and Missouri’s readiness to handle a potential outbreak, state Sen. Bill Eigel confirmed Thursday. 

A list of guests who plan to testify at the committee meeting was not yet readily available. 

Also Thursday, House Speaker Elijah Haahr announced the creation of the Special Committee on Disease Control and Prevention. State Rep. Jon Patterson, a private practice general surgeon, will lead the committee.

The first scheduled meeting is March 2 with Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) Director Randall Williams

“Dr. Randall Williams has briefed my office on the state’s preventive measures and response plan to protect Missouri’s health,” Haahr said in a statement. “I believe Missourians deserve to know the steps that have been taken and the proactive approach Dr. Williams and DHSS are utilizing to combat the coronavirus in our state.” 

“I believe the more information Missourians have, the better equipped the state will be to mitigate the spread of the virus and also monitor for symptoms so a prompt response is possible,” he continued. “With Dr. Patterson as the chair, this panel is designed to ask the questions on Missourians’ minds regarding the coronavirus and for the department to assure the public that Missouri is taking preventive measures and is ready to respond if needed.” 

In addition to Patterson, the special committee will also include state Reps. Steve Helms, Jim Neely, Tom Hannegan, Kathy Swan, Holly Rehder, Lane Roberts, Ashley Bland Manlove, Yolanda Young, Rasheen Aldridge, and Kip Kendrick. 

Williams traveled to Washington, D.C., this week to attend a White House briefing on the coronavirus as well as meet with other state and local health officials. Following these meetings, Williams said Missouri’s efforts are “strategically aligned with our federal and national partners.” 

“Prior to the national health emergency being declared on Jan. 31, our incident management team from DHSS had already begun daily meetings (on Jan. 27) as part of our normal preparedness and response duties,” Williams said. 

Despite no confirmed cases in Missouri, more than 60 people have been evaluated because of experienced symptoms, travel, or exposure history, DHSS confirmed Thursday. A much smaller portion met the CDC’s criteria for persons under investigation, according to the state health department. 

There are no tests currently pending, DHSS confirmed. 

Additionally, the Missouri State Public Health Laboratory was given a green light by the CDC Thursday to help with testing. The specific test — using real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (rRT-PCR) — can detect the virus which causes the disease and provide same-day results. 

“Our Missouri team has been working to educate and collaborate with a robust network of response organizations, including the State Emergency Management Agency, all 16 state departments, the Missouri State Public Health Laboratory, clinicians, local public health departments, medical associations, hospital associations, airports, school nurses, student health departments at colleges, and others to provide timely and accurate information in preparation for the possibility of a future positive case,” Williams said. “We are dedicated to continuing to educate Missourians about COVID-19. The risk for infection still remains low, and we will continue to strategically align with all of our partners under our operating principle of hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.”

The State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors has also added information to its website regarding the handling of deceased individuals who had contracted the coronavirus. 

Editor’s Note: Given the volatile nature of the disease and experts’ awareness of it, be aware the CDC’s estimate of confirmed cases in the U.S. is likely to change. Check the CDC for the most up-to-date figures.