Missouri is still at low risk of a critical outbreak of the coronavirus, three doctors testified at a Missouri House of Representatives hearing Monday.

Stevan Whitt, an infectious disease specialist at MU Health Care, said Missouri residents are not at an elevated risk but that it’s inevitable there will be some cases. The mortality rate of recent COVID-19 cases is about 3.3%, which Whitt said is not terribly high.

Nationwide, there are 105 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and six deaths. All of the deaths have occurred in Washington state, according to an interactive Johns Hopkins map.

While more Missourians are trying to get tested for the disease, limited resources were available as of Monday.

Whitt said the Centers for Disease Control has done most of the testing so far. He predicted that within the week, more testing would be available in Missouri.

“There are many commercial and other governmental labs working (on providing testing),” Whitt said.

Randall Williams, director of the state’s Department of Health and Senior Services, said there are no confirmed cases in Missouri but that the agency can make a diagnosis in six hours.

Another piece of good news is that there’s an applicable emergency plan in place, which is the Pandemic Influenza Response Plan.

“We probably don’t have to invent everything from the beginning,” Whitt said. “So we can be more confident that we currently have a good plan in place, with very minor changes (from the influenza plan) — the approaches are very similar.”

No vaccination or antivirals are currently available, Williams said. However, individual precautions were emphasized throughout the hearing. Experts advised:

  • Coughing into the elbow.
  • Not touching eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Thoroughly and frequently washing hands.
  • Staying home for at least seven days and for 14, if possible, if you’re ill.
  • Making sure to describe your symptoms over the phone before a doctor’s appointment and wearing a mask to the doctor’s office.

“If you’re feeling sick, even if you think it’s just a cold, don’t go see your loved ones,” Whitt said. “On the other hand, do not go to your sick loved ones.”

Though appealing for “social distancing” for now, Williams addressed one myth about the virus, saying: “We do not believe your dog or cat carries coronavirus. (My dog) wants to make sure that we all keep loving our own animals.”

Clay Dunagan, chief clinical officer at BJC HealthCare, also testified at the hearing.

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  • Public Safety and Health reporter, Spring 2020. Studying data journalism. Reach me at hanjiang@mail.missouri.edu, or in the newsroom at 882-5720.

  • I'm the public safety and health editor at the Missourian and a professor in the School of Journalism. I'm experienced in directing investigative projects. Call me at (573) 882-1792 with story tips, ideas or complaints.

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