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Parson declares state of emergency as number of coronavirus cases in Missouri climbs

4 Missourians have tested positive for coronavirus

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Gov. Mike Parson has declared a state of emergency as the number of individuals who test positive for coronavirus in Missouri rises.

Thus far, four people have tested positive for coronavirus, although only one individual in the St. Louis area has been confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Another “presumptive positive” case was announced in Springfield Thursday; there is no further information about the additional two cases. 

The state of emergency order invokes the Missouri State Emergency Operations Plan and unleashes approximately $7 million in funding aside from federal funding expected — although Parson did not give a specific plan for that money. 

“I want to be clear that the declaration has not been made because we feel our current health care system is overwhelmed or unprepared,” Parson said Friday evening. “The purpose of this executive order is to provide more flexibility in utilizing our resources and deploying them around the state where they are most appropriate.” 

The executive order waives “certain state laws and regulations when necessary,” Parson said, but it does not impact public schools. Parson said schools should seek guidance from local health officials on whether to close. 

He also left imposing bans on gatherings of a certain size to local officials. 

Parson said the state is expanding its ability to test for coronavirus through partnerships with the University of Missouri and Washington University. The state has already shared positive samples with Washington University and plans to do the same with the University of Missouri. 

The state lab is expected to receive additional testing resources from the CDC as well.

Additionally, Parson said the state is reviewing federal guidelines pertaining to health insurance coverage and unemployment benefits. 

The state should also have the capability to “deploy temporary structures” with the National Guard and the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency for things like testing sites or health facilities if needed.

House and Senate leadership praised the emergency order Friday. 

“I fully support [Parson’s] decision to declare a state emergency today,” Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden said. “We must work to utilize every possible resource in the containment of [COVID-19] in our state.” 

“Governor Parson made the smart and right decision today to protect Missourians against the spread of the coronavirus by declaring a state of emergency for Missouri,” House Speaker Elijah Haahr, Speaker Pro Tem John Wiemann, and Majority Floor Leader Rob Vescovo said in a joint statement. “We support this precautionary, yet important step that will enable health care providers and local health departments access to more resources. We stand ready to move quickly, if needed, to act on any emergency legislation to combat COVID-19.” 

Democrats had been imploring Parson to declare a state emergency ahead of Friday’s announcement. 

“The Governor must issue an emergency declaration so that the state can access funds and take additional actions to respond to this growing public health emergency,” Auditor Nicole Galloway, who faces Parson in the upcoming gubernatorial contest, said in a statement Friday morning. “These funds are needed immediately to rapidly expand the availability of testing for COVID-19. An emergency declaration gives the governor unique powers that can expand the availability of public health resources and control community spread of the disease.” 

President Donald Trump also declared a national emergency Friday, freeing up $50 billion in government funding. 

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. 

There have been more than 1,600 confirmed cases in the U.S., and 41 deaths, according to the CDC. Aside from the four people who have tested positive in Missouri, 90 people have tested negatively, Parson said. 

The Missouri Capitol has effectively shuttered a week before a scheduled legislative spring break. The Senate canceled session for the upcoming week, while the House will have a technical session Monday and Tuesday as the Budget Committee continues to work. Some public areas in the House have been closed. 

“We knew this was coming, and we are taking every precaution we can,” Parson said. 

The Department of Health and Senior Services (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. A previous glitch that did not allow phones with out-of-state area codes access the hotline has been fixed, officials said. 

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