Missouri governor mobilizes National Guard for virus fight


March 27, 2020

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Missouri braced for a surge of coronavirus patients as the number of deaths grew to nine, with the governor mobilizing the state's National Guard and a top St. Louis County official urging recently retired health care workers to return to work.

During a virtual press conference with the governor on Friday, Missouri National Guard Adjutant General Levon Cumpton said the Guard is "here to help you, not to control you." He said missions might include setting up community-based testing centers and transporting medical equipment.

"I want to be perfectly clear: This is not about putting Missouri under martial law," Gov. Mike Parson said.

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, in a YouTube video released Thursday, asked that any recently retired doctors, nurses or other health care professional come back to work.

"In the coming weeks our medical institutions will face a heavy burden," Page said. "We need your help to make sure everyone gets the treatment that they need."

The number of confirmed cases increased Friday to 670, up 168 from Thursday, according to state health officials. They also reported nine deaths Friday before Springfield-Greene County health officials announced a fourth person had died at an assisted living home in Springfield.

The Springfield-Greene County Health Department said a woman in her 90s died at the Morningside East assisted-living center before three other women at the center died. The agency said the woman wasn't tested but it is considering her a COVID-19 victim due to her close contact with them. Four other people at the home have tested positive for the disease.

Lisa Cox, a spokeswoman for the Missouri health department, said Friday the state would not "at this time" count the Springfield woman's death as a coronavirus death.

Missouri Health and Senior Services Director Randall Williams on Friday said about 7,000 people have been tested for the virus in Missouri, putting the state's rate of positive cases among individuals tested for the COVID-19 virus at closer to 10%. The state health department is rationing tests and doesn't recommend testing people without symptoms.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. But the virus can lead to pneumonia and even death for some people, especially older adults and those with existing health problems.

Missouri's Social Services Department on Saturday will start fielding phone calls about food stamps seven days a week to deal with the influx of requests for help. The agency on Friday also announced that the federal government approved its request to temporarily suspend phone interviews for food stamps.

Among the hard-hit places in Missouri is Life Care Center in St. Louis, a nursing home that has reported six cases. Sean Buckley, executive director of the Life Care Center in St. Louis, said in a written statement that four residents were hospitalized and two employees were directed to stay at home.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the nursing home is owned by the same company that operates the Life Care Center of Kirkland, near Seattle, where 37 people died from COVID-19. Another Life Care facility in Kansas City was the site of Kansas' first coronavirus death.

Stay-at-home orders are in place across much of the state, and on Friday the city of St. Louis cracked down further, closing all playgrounds. The St. Louis Department of Health said people had been gathering in large groups at playgrounds, increasing the risk of children either contracting or spreading the virus.


Hollingsworth reported from Kansas City.


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