Press "Enter" to skip to content

Missouri health director Randall Williams on state’s strategy for COVID-19: ‘Never seen this in my lifetime’


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri’s strategy for responding to coronavirus is to identify those who are affected as quickly as possible and isolate them, Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) Director Randall Williams said. 

Five Missourians have tested positive for coronavirus, or COVID-19: two in St. Louis County, two in Greene County, and one in Henry County. The first four are believed to be travel-related; the Henry County case might be community-based. 

A hospital in Clinton was placed on diversion early Saturday and advised not to accept new patients after an individual tested positive at the facility. It is still on diversion as other people associated with the hospital are being tested, Williams told The Missouri Times in a long-ranging interview Sunday. 

“Where we’re really basing our strategy in Missouri is: If we can identify people as early as possible and isolate them, we think that kind of personal responsibility, that personal acknowledgment to get tested, is what will significantly decrease the morbidity and mortality of this,” Williams said. 

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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned. 

The “distinguishing” factor with COVID-19, however, is a fever, Williams said. 

“This is unprecedented. We’ve never seen this in my lifetime, and I lived through H1N1 in 2009; that was a pandemic,” Williams said. “The big difference here is for the first time ever in my lifetime … is we’re isolating and quarantining people. If you think about it, before, if you had a really bad flu season like we had here in Missouri 10 years ago, you could have a fever of 105 and feel terrible, but you’d go to work the next day if you felt fine and nobody would ever know.”

“Well, now not only when we identify people, we’re making them go home, if you had contact [with someone infected] and you feel perfectly healthy, we are isolating you for 14 days,” he continued. “That’s never happened, and that’s why you’re seeing so much disruption.” 

While the state has a limited number of tests and “fairly strict criteria” for who can get tested, Williams praised several private labs — including Quest, LabCorp, and Washington University — for developing tests for Missourians. He also said the University of Missouri is expected to make tests commercially available soon. 

“I believe that in two weeks’ time that we will expand greatly the number of people who can qualify for testing — but remember, you have to be symptomatic,” Williams said. 

Missouri’s state laboratory is no longer required to send positive tests to the CDC for confirmation; instead, results are considered final. 

There have been more than 1,600 confirmed cases in the U.S., and 41 deaths, according to the CDC

Gov. Mike Parson declared a state of emergency last week as President Donald Trump declared a national emergency. DHSS has opened a public hotline that will be operated by medical professionals around the clock seven days a week. The hotline number is 877-435-8411. 

Williams has served as Missouri’s health director since 2017 after working as North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services director. 

Watch the full interview with Williams to find out more about what the state is doing to mitigate the spread of the disease, including in places like mental health facilities and prisons. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: For up-to-date information on coronavirus, check with the CDC and DHSS.