University of Missouri Health Care on Thursday added new limits for visitors and began cutting back on elective procedures as healthcare workers prepare to treat COVID-19.


The hospital announced Thursday that patients would be limited to one visitor for their entire stay, which includes those going to a clinic appointment, emergency department or admitted in a MU Health Care hospital.


Visitors will be directed through specific entrances and screened for cough and fever before being allowed to enter, a news release said.


Elective procedures will be canceled for high-risk patients, meaning those older than 60 and with health conditions that could make them more susceptible to the coronavirus. Patients who will likely require hospital stays longer than two days and patients whose procedures would require extensive use of personal protective equipment will also see cancellations.


The decision comes one day after a group of MU Healthcare workers sent an anonymous letter to local media outlets, including the Tribune, calling on hospital administration to immediately cancel all non-essential procedures in an effort to conserve personal protective equipment.


The equipment, which usually consists of a mask, gown and gloves, is used to protect healthcare workers from exposure to illness while caring for patients.


"We are asking the community to reach out to members of the MUHC administration to impress upon them that those of us who will bear the brunt of this crisis need to be protected," the letter said.


The equipment is also used by caregivers while testing potential COVID-19 patients. In a press conference on Wednesday, Dr. Jonathan Heidt, vice chair of clinical operations for emergency medicine, said the hospital’s supply of protective equipment was stable.


"We take the safety of our healthcare staff very seriously," Heidt said.


There are 26 confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection in Missouri and one death, on Wednesday in Columbia. Nationwide, the number of confirmed infections grew to 11,274 on Thursday, with 157 deaths.


The first confirmed case of the illness in Missouri was March 8 in Saint Louis County. On Wednesday, SLUCare Physicians Group, which is a part of the Saint Louis University Hospital, announced they would be postponing non-urgent appointments including cosmetic procedures and wellness checkups.


"Scheduled appointments for serious issues and conditions, such as follow-up to a recent surgery or hospital stay … will go on as scheduled," the physicians group said in a post on its website.


Boone Hospital Center has yet to announce any cancellations in elective procedures. However, Boone Hospital Center Director of Marketing Ben Cornelius said the hospital is currently working to solidify changes to its elective procedures in light of COVID-19.


Dr. Mark Monroe of Advanced Radiology, which is not associated with either MU Healthcare of Boone Hospital Center, said some of his patients had already chosen to postpone their visit. Advanced Radiology is an outpatient facility and is continuing to screen patients for symptoms of COVID-19.


"We don’t want to expose people (to COVID-19) at this juncture," Monroe said. "It’s to protect staff. It’s to protect the patient. It’s to protect their family."


Although Monroe said his outpatient clinic will likely continue with operations, just with increased monitoring of incoming patients, he said he is already seeing shortages of personal protective equipment like masks and gloves, citing supplier shortages as hospitals nationwide battle the COVID-19 outbreak.