First COVID-19 death announced in Missouri

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson stands alongside Columbia Mayor Brian Treece to announce the first known C0VID-19 death in Missouri on Wednesday, March 18, outside his office at the Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City. The patient was diagnosed with COVID-19 in Boone County, which includes Columbia, and contracted the disease through travel.  Photo by Laurie Skrivan, lskrivan@post-dispatch.com 

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JEFFERSON CITY – The number of new COVID-19 cases rose to 28 Thursday, up from 24 the day before, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson's administration said.

No details were made available about the new cases during an afternoon press briefing outside Parson's office. Department of Health and Senior Services Director Randall Williams said notifications about the new cases were still being made.

No deaths from the coronavirus were reported, leaving the state with one fatality from the disease, a Boone County resident older than 60 who had traveled abroad.

Parson defended his decision to not call for more aggressive restrictions on school and business closings, saying he understands as a former small business owner how hard it would be to have the government force a shutdown.

"Making decisions like that is easier said than done," Parson said. "I know how hard it can be to make a payroll."

At the same time, he noted that even without a direct order, all school districts in Missouri are now closed at least temporarily as a way to slow the spread of the outbreak.

The announcement came as state government scrambled to respond to the growing number of cases.

Parson signed an executive order Wednesday allowing state agencies to waive certain rules and statutes in their planning for the outbreak.

Among the most sweeping were changes to the state's health insurance and child care safety net.

The state's Medicaid program, known as MO HealthNet, announced it would not terminate eligibility for any participant unless it is requested by the participant.

A provision in the state's food stamp program requiring adults to work is being waived for the next three months.

“When a Missourian is in need of medical services or medications during the COVID-19 pandemic, we want the health care provider’s primary focus to be on delivering what a MO HealthNet participant needs to remain healthy, not on the participant’s coverage,” said MO HealthNet Director  Todd Richardson.

In other state agencies, the Department of Natural Resources took steps to limit large group activities within state parks.

The Missouri School for the Blind and the Missouri School for the Deaf closed without identifying a date to reopen.

And, large training classes for state workers have been canceled.

"We need to protect our workers," Parson said. "The state has got to keep going."

A program within the Missouri Department of Corrections, meanwhile, will be manufacturing hand sanitizer using inmate labor.

And, the State Emergency Management Agency received a shipment of personal protective equipment that will be distributed to emergency medical service personnel and hospitals, said Missouri Department of Public Safety Director Sandra Karsten.

The governor also predicted more test kits would be made available in the "coming weeks" as the state moves to contract with private companies to expand efforts to identify people carrying the disease.

Kurt Erickson • 573-556-6181

@KurtEricksonPD on Twitter

kerickson@post-dispatch.com

This article originally ran on stltoday.com.

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