ST. LOUIS – Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on Friday declared a state of emergency in response to the spread of the novel coronavirus and announced the state has two more presumptive positive cases, bringing the total to four.
One of the new cases is a St. Louis County resident in the 50s who case is believed to be related to domestic travel, Parson said in a statement. Details on the other case have not been released yet.
At a news conference, Parson said he considered declaring the state of emergency "the next appropriate step to protect the public health" and stressed the move was not made because of concerns that the state's health care system is overwhelmed or unprepared.
"The primary purpose of this emergency declaration is to provide greater flexibility in allocating our state resources, not because the local health providers feel they are overwhelmed," Parson told reporters in his Capitol office.
Declaring a state of emergency gives Parson the ability to tap into about $7 million of state disaster funds, which he said can be used for coronavirus response efforts.
Parson also said he did not intend to close the state's schools, as Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker did on Friday. Parson said school districts should seek guidance from local health officials in deciding whether to close schools.
Also on Friday, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, who is a physician, banned all events in the county attended by more than 250 people amid a flurry of closures of athletic events, parades and even church services.
Detection efforts also were intensifying. The Mercy health system announced that a drive-thru coronavirus testing facility could open as soon as Saturday in the St. Louis suburb of Chesterfield. Mercy said it also plans to open more testing sites in Missouri and the other three states where it operates — Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma.
Meanwhile, a Missouri health department spokeswoman said the agency is working to fix a glitch with a hotline the state set up to answer questions about the virus. Calls to the hotline from out-of-state numbers wouldn't go through as of Friday afternoon.
Missouri's first confirmed case of COVID-19 was a St. Louis-area woman in her 20s who had been studying in Italy and tested positive for the coronavirus last week after returning home.
The state's second case is a person in their early 20s who had recently traveled to Austria, Parson said Thursday. The patient was tested at a clinic in Springfield, is quarantined at home with mild symptoms and is expected to recover, Parson said.
Parson on Friday said the state is working out agreements to allow Washington University and the University of Missouri to conduct coronavirus tests and expand the state's testing capacity.
The World Health Organization has labelled the coronavirus a pandemic and President Donald Trump has declared a national emergency.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the WHO, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.
Kansas City Public Schools decided to close on Friday, one day before the start of spring break. Most students in the district receive free and reduced-priced lunch. Ray Weikal, a KCPS spokesman, said the district has been "planning for services like food distribution, virtual learning and deep cleaning in case we cancel school after spring break," The Kansas City Star reported.
"We know that our families depend on us for multiple services, and we commit to continuing to support our families in the event of future closures," Weikal said.
The private Barstow School in Kansas City, canceled classes for Thursday and Friday ahead of a two-week spring break due to virus exposure concerns.
School officials said a family member of a school employee tested positive for COVID-19. School officials canceled classes as a precaution but said the infected person hasn't visited the campus, and the related school employee has shown no symptoms. No students or other school staff were exposed.
Spokeswoman Lisa Tulp said students and staff may be able to return March 30, or "we may have to move to online."
Several universities in the state have moved to online classes.
Parson asked the Legislature to authorize $13 million in federal emergency funding to address the coronavirus.
Kansas City and St. Louis have banned all public events with more than 1,000 attendees. St. Patrick's Day parades in Kansas City, St. Louis and Springfield have been canceled. Six Flags St. Louis announced that it has suspended operation until at least the end of March.
Meanwhile, the Department of Corrections announced Thursday that Missouri's 20 state-run prisons will be closed to visitors, with the exception of attorneys, for the next 30 days. Parson on Friday said the Department of Mental Health and Missouri veterans' homes also are restricting visitors.
St. Louis Circuit Court suspended all jury trials through April 13 and walk-in weddings at the county courthouse on Friday afternoons will be suspended on March 30 and April 3.
Entertainment venues in Kansas City and St. Louis also announced closings or cancellations for the next few weeks. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Arts in Kansas City will be closed Saturday through April 3 and the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts said it will postpone all events through April 1. Also, the St. Louis Art Museum and Contemporary Art Museum will remain open but are canceling tours, special events and lectures starting Sunday through April 30.
Churches also were calling off services, including the Church of the Resurrection, which has the largest Methodist congregation in the U.S. with over 20,000 members. The megachurch's main campus is in Leawood, Kansas, but it has campuses on the Missouri side of the line.
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