Missouri Gov. Mike Parson

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson stands beside his desk, on which a bottle of hand sanitizer could be seen, at a press conference given Friday from his office. During the conference, he declared a state of emergency, which he said  could make some resources, such as testing for the new coronavirus, more accessible.

On Monday, a day after urging the cancellation or suspension of gatherings of 50 or more people, Gov. Mike Parson announced a sixth person has tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus first identified in late 2019 in China’s Wuhan province.

To date, Parson said, 170 tests have been conducted, and of those, two positive results have been recorded in Greene and St. Louis counties each, and one in Henry County. The location of the sixth patient to test positive had not been announced by press time.

Several area medical facilities have implemented tighter restrictions on visitors to ensure patient safety on the heels of a weekend full of announcements from the governor’s office.

Parson on Friday announced a state of emergency for Missouri in order to be better prepared with resources and their deployment as needed, he said. Among those resources is an increase in testing capabilities “by thousands,” made possible by collaborations between the state and Washington University and the University of Missouri, he announced.

“The Missouri State Public Health Lab has shared a positive COVID-19 sample with Washington University, which will allow its lab to create a control and conduct testing in the near future,” reads a press release from Parson’s office. “The state is currently in the process of doing the same with the University of Missouri.”

In addition, the state lab expects to soon receive more tests from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pushing its capacity to 1,600 patient tests.

Parson said the state is also working to address concerns about the availability of personal protective equipment for responders outside of healthcare and has been in communication with the Missouri Foundation for Health to help identify funding gaps in services and equipment for vulnerable Missourians.

In addition to these efforts, the state is also in the process of reviewing federal guidance allowing for additional flexibility in health insurance coverage and unemployment benefits.

The governor also said he expects Missouri will be able to deploy temporary structures in coordination with the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency and the Missouri National Guard should the need arise.

Parson’s declaration could provide access up to a combined total of about $7 million in state funds beyond the federal funds Missouri expects to receive, he said.

GOVERNOR’S RESPONSE TO CDC RECOMMENDATIONS

“As we are all aware, concerns over COVID-19 continue to grow across the state and the nation. In accordance with CDC recommendations, my administration and I strongly urge the cancellation or suspension of public gatherings of 50 individuals or more with the exception of educational institutions, daycare facilities, and business operations,” Parson said Sunday, following the release of new recommendations from the CDC to stem the spread of the disease. 

“We encourage local governments and health agencies to provide the same guidance,” he continued. “To protect our elderly citizens and those with underlying medical conditions, we would ask them to avoid public gatherings as much as possible.”

Specifically, the governor urged facilities that attract large numbers of senior citizens to strongly consider restrictions and closures, working with local health authorities. Public health officials have determined that senior citizens are among those most vulnerable to the virus.

Schools are encouraged to follow the CDC guidelines and communicate with local health professionals and public health officials regarding decisions about school closures.

“I want to emphasize that we are all in this together. Missouri continues to work closely with both federal and local officials in order to maximize coordination and tailor our response appropriately,” Parson concluded. “It takes all of us at the local, state and federal level along with neighbors, families and fellow citizens to use common sense and personal responsibility to work through these tough times and protect the health and safety of all Missourians.”

OMC EXPANDS RESTRICTIONS

Ozarks Medical Center has implemented a higher level of restrictions, effective Monday, to continue to help reduce the possibility of spreading COVID-19 throughout the community, hospital officials announced.

OMC joins many other healthcare organizations in proactively deploying the restrictions recommended by the CDC and the Missouri Department of Health.

Starting Monday, said officials, all patients and visitors will be required to enter the hospital through the doors on the north side of the building beside the emergency department. No one younger than 18, who is not seeking treatment, will be allowed in the hospital.

Each patient will be limited to one visitor per patient, per day, officials continued.

The OMC Pharmacy drive-thru will be the only location open for pharmacy services. The existing restrictions put into place Friday remain in effect when visiting any OMC facility, such as its clinics.

Anyone who has had a fever or who has felt sick within the previous 24 hours, and is not receiving treatment, should avoid visiting all OMC facilities for the protection of others, including the hospital and outpatient clinics, officials urged. Patients with a scheduled appointment at an OMC facility should attend alone unless extra assistance is needed.

Everyone should check for a temperature before arriving at a facility. If experiencing a fever before arrival, patients are asked to call to reschedule.

“If you have questions about symptoms or exposure, please call Missouri’s dedicated COVID-19 hotline. If you develop symptoms such as fever, cough, and/or difficulty breathing and have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19 or have recently traveled from an area with an ongoing spread of COVID-19, stay home and call your healthcare provider for guidance,” said Dr. Curtis Horstman, medical director of OMC Emergency Department. “Patients that need to be seen for emergencies and that also have a fever, are asked to call before their arrival, so that we may properly isolate them.”

OMC continues to operate at full capacity to meet the needs of the communities it serves, said officials, adding that the proactive steps are put in place to limit the possible transmission of COVID-19 and other viruses.

OMC will continue to provide care to all who seek treatment at its facilities.

Anyone with questions about exposure or symptoms is asked to call 877-435-8411 to be screened before going to the emergency department or primary care provider.

For more information about OMC and coronavirus, visit  www.OzarksMedicalCenter.com/Coronavirus.

MERCY ST. FRANCIS

Similarly, Mercy St. Francis Hospital in Mtn. View has issued its own set of limitations on visitors, effective Sunday.

As with OMC, minors who are not patients will not be allowed in Mercy hospitals or clinics, officials said, and access to Mercy Hospital in Springfield is limited to only one entrance, the main entrance on the south side. Valet parking is still available at the west entrance, and laboring mothers and St. Jude affiliate patients should continue to use the Mercy Kids entrance.

Patients at all facilities, including Mtn. View, are allowed a visitor per day, with possible exceptions for those near death, said officials.

Only parents will be allowed in the neonatal intensive care unit, and in-person prenatal classes are canceled. Virtual classes are available online at www.mercy.net/springfieldmoms.

VA MEDICAL CLINICS

Libby Johnson, associate director at the John J. Pershing VA Medical Center (VAMC) and crisis management incident commander, announced the medical center in Poplar Bluff will implement “Tier 2” COVID-19 planning measures effective at 6 a.m. Wednesday, and screening will be done at West Plains and other community clinics.

Johnson said no patients have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and, up to now, the center’s preparedness measures have focused on limiting exposure for vulnerable veteran populations, including patients in the hospital and nursing home residents. In addition, efforts have included educating staff and veterans and screening patients for COVID-19 indications.

“However, additional precautionary measures are prudent at this point, given the continued national growth of infections,” said Johnson. “Now that we have received national guidance to halt non-urgent elective procedures, we will implement Tier 2 actions in a systematic and controlled manner.”

Johnson explained that Tier 2 procedures will include screening all entrants, including staff, veterans, contractors and visitors, applying advanced staffing plans and using telemedicine where possible.

“All entrances to the medical center will be closed to traffic except the front (main) entrance, which will be used for veteran access, and the rear entrance, which will be used by employees,” Johnson said.

Veterans must enter the building through the current urgent care entrance on the north side of the medical center, as all other doors to the main facility will be closed to non-staff traffic, she explained.

Screening posts will also be established for the community clinics in West Plains, Farmington, Cape Girardeau and Sikeston, Missouri, as well as Paragould and Pocahontas, Arkansas. The Salem, Missouri clinic will be temporarily closed due to staffing shortages and other concerns, said Johnson.

Beginning Wednesday, non-urgent elective procedures will not be performed, the VA shuttle to St. Louis will be discontinued and temporary closures will be ordered for veterans service offices and the medical center brand of the Ozark Federal Credit Union.

In addition, the volunteer program will be temporarily halted, group activities and therapies will be reviewed with some cancellations possible, and some Veterans Transportation Services routes will be reviewed and curtailed.

Visitors at all locations will be limited to immediate family member or caregiver accompanying a patient for scheduled appointments and only service animals required for Americans With Disabilities Act purposes, such as seeing-eye dogs, will be allowed.

Scheduled deliveries only will be accepted through the north entrance. All food bank distributions will be postponed until further notice, and nursing home and acute care areas will remain closed to visitors.

“These proactive actions will assist with reducing the spread of the virus, and protecting our veterans, employees and communities,” Johnson said. “Reducing unnecessary procedures will free up resources to address possible increases in the number of Veterans under evaluation.”

 Johnson said the medical center will remain open for urgent and clinical needs. 

“We hope our veterans will remember to call before they come if they are experiencing flu-like symptoms, fever or respiratory distress,” she said, citing the main call center number, 573-686-4151. “We will explore options for virtual visits and other ways to help keep them safe at home.”

“We appreciate the patience of our Veterans and community members as we do our part to address this national crisis in the most organized and safest way possible,” Johnson concluded.  “The whole country is pulling together to do what is necessary to prevent the spread of the disease.”

To view the latest CDC guidance on mass gatherings and large community events, visit www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/large-events/mass-gatherings-ready-for-covid-19.html.

For more information, visit the CDC’s website at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) website at www.health.mo.gov/coronavirus.

The public may also call the DHSS hotline at 877-435-8411 for questions regarding COVID-19 in Missouri.

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