The first death from COVID-19 in Missouri is a Columbia resident in their 60s who recently returned from a trip overseas.
The family of the person identified Tuesday as the city’s first coronavirus case called 911 Wednesday with a medical emergency.
"We mourn the loss of one of our community members and I thank our health care providers and first responders who had planned for this, to be prepared, but not to panic," Mayor Brian Treece said during a media briefing with Gov. Mike Parson.
"We are in this together and we will get through this together," Treece added.
There are 24 people known to have been infected in Missouri, including the person who died Wednesday, Parson said at his daily COVID-19 news conference a few hours after the briefing with Treece.
So far, Parson said, most of the cases found in Missouri are travel-related. He repeated that the best way to prevent infection and to stop the spread of the disease that causes respiratory problems and fever is to stay home.
"It is important to follow those instructions for every one of us," Parson said. "It is important they do what they are told to do."
Parson on Wednesday postponed the upcoming municipal election and signed an executive order granting state department directors broad authority to waive regulations and laws that may impede the state’s response.
The state has personal protective equipment it will begin distributing Thursday and will be deploying mobile units to assist in collecting samples for testing, reporters were told at the evening news conference.
Following the call for assistance to the COVID-19 patient who died, six emergency responders are in quarantine because of potential exposure, Treece said.
Boone County emergency communications operators were told that the patient had tested positive for the coronavirus and responders used the Pandemic Disease Operations Plan and proper personal protective equipment before entering the home and making contact with the patient, according to a city news release.
The patient was transported to University of Missouri Health Care and later died.
The coronavirus disease that emerged late last year has infected almost 215,000 people worldwide and is blamed for more than 8,700 deaths. Nationally, there are almost 7,800 confirmed infections and 118 deaths in addition to the one in Columbia.
The first death in Missouri should impress anyone who isn’t convinced of the threat posted by COVID-19, Dr. Stevan Whitt, the chief clinical officer for University of Missouri Health Care, said at the briefing on the death.
"This is reinforcement that COVID-19 is really here and we really need to do our part," Whitt said.
Schools across the county are closed and colleges and universities have ended in-person instruction, moving to online coursework.
The University of Missouri announced incentives for students to vacate residence halls by April 3, with a 45 percent credit to student accounts. There will be prorated refunds for meal plans and a credit for student activity fees, Vice Chancellor for Finance Rhonda Gibler wrote in a message to the campus.
"Our first priority is to ensure the health and safety of our community, and we are strongly encouraging students to return home if they have the ability to do so," Gibler wrote.
The death comes the day after the city started using emergency powers granted to City Manager John Glascock and the Columbia-Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services.
Columbia is banning all events of more than 50 people.
MU Health Care began drive-thru testing Wednesday. People who qualify under CDC guidelines will be able to receive a test.
Patients will first need to have a telehealth — or video — consultation with MU Health Care. If they qualify for a test, they will be notified to come to the drive-thru.
It is possible that people carry the virus without showing symptoms, Mark Wakefield, MU Health’s associate chief medical officer, said during a Tuesday evening briefing at City Hall. It’s not good medical practice to simply test everyone, and that a false-positive result on an asymptomatic person could "do more harm than good," he said.
"Testing has been constrained — we have the potential opportunity to leave that restriction by innovation," Wakefield said. "But it's also something that could be depleted if we're not utilizing those resources wisely."
Individuals who had close contact with the person who tested positive are in the process of being notified, said Stephanie Browning, public health and human services director for Columbia and Boone County.
The 50-person limit will apply to restaurants, bars and clothing stores. The limit is the maximum number who can be in any establishment, including employees. If the rated capacity of a business is less than 100, the limit will be half the rated capacity.
The cap doesn’t include cafeterias at hospitals, grocery stores, jails or farmers markets, Browning said. The city will also impose a limit of 10 people on gatherings of people considered high risk, such as elderly people.
Multiple Columbia restaurants have closed due to virus concerns, including the Heidelberg downtown.
Both Columbia hospitals imposed new limits on visitors. At MU Hospital limits will be decreased to one visitor, age 18 or older, per patient, said Mary Beck, MU Health’s chief nursing officer.
The limit will be imposed "for the entire encounter," Beck said, and includes in-patient stay, emergency department visits and outpatient appointments.
For special patients, like children, two visitors will be allowed, and exceptions will be made for patients in compassionate, or end-of-life, care, she said.
Hospital volunteering is suspended, and clinical rotations for student learners have been suspended through March 31, Beck said.
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