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For more news about the COVID-19 coronavirus, access the News Tribune Health section.
 

With no immediate end coming for the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on Missouri, the state's governor said it's the responsibility of every resident to do their part for the greater good.

"We know what it takes to slow this virus down, but it's not government. It's all of us, taking individual responsibility," Gov. Mike Parson said Tuesday at his daily news briefing.

As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 255 confirmed cases in Missouri of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, according to the state's Department of Health and Senior Services.

The Cole County Health Department reported Tuesday that there were seven cases in the county — six related to travel outside the state, but not outside the country, and one of a person who had been in contact with another infected person from another county.

The Associated Press on Tuesday reported a total of eight coronavirus-related deaths in the state, including two more elderly women who were residents at the same assisted-living center in Springfield where the death of a third elderly woman had been reported Monday.

A fourth woman who lives at the facility, who was also infected, remained in the hospital.

COVID-19 generally poses a higher risk of death for people who are older or have compromised immune systems. However, other groups of people may also be at risk, and younger adults are not free from risk of severe illness, either.

More than half of the people who have so far tested positive in the state for the disease have been younger than 50, according to DHSS. People in their 20s were in the age group with the most positive cases, at a total of 60.

"Whether you personally think so or not, this is serious, and you are putting not only your own health in jeopardy but the health of everyone around you in jeopardy," Parson said of people who do not follow social distancing orders.

"COVID-19 isn't going to go away in just a few days or weeks. But, if everyone will look out for one another, follow the order on social distancing and work together for the greater good of Missouri, we will overcome COVID-19 and come back stronger than ever," he added.

One of the biggest priorities for state government, he said, remains the need to get personal protective equipment, or PPE, for medical providers and first responders who regularly work with patients.

As of Tuesday, the State Emergency Management Agency has placed orders for $17.3 million worth of PPE — out the $18 million Parson redirected from the budgets of other state departments, said Sandra Karsten, director of the Missouri Department of Public Safety.

Karsten said the single most-requested item by medical, health care, EMS, fire and law enforcement communities is N95 respirators: "In response, we have purchased more than 4.2 million N95 respirators at a cost of $10 million."

At last count, she said SEMA staff had also placed orders for items including 61,000 safety goggles, 95,000 three-layer surgical masks, more than 7,400 surgical gowns and more than 335,000 bottles of hand sanitizer.

SEMA staff have been working day and night to acquire PPE from commercial markets, "from major suppliers to vendors on Amazon," Karsten said.

Deliveries are expected at the state's warehouse over the next few weeks, and a distribution plan for the PPE is in place, she said.

She also encouraged response partners to purchase PPE directly through commercial vendors, when available, and to keep all purchase documentation.

Parson said the state is working every day with the National Guard, Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to identify buildings and other sites across the state that could be used for medical purposes, including housing COVID-19 patients, if needed.

He said the state was not planning on releasing any non-violent prison inmates, as of Tuesday.

The Missouri Department of Corrections had announced Monday the first reported case of COVID-19 among incarcerated offenders.

"People are incarcerated for a reason, and that's because of what the law is," Parson said, adding it's not immediately clear whether people released would have homes to go to.

Education

Along with Karsten, Parson's briefing Tuesday featured updates and remarks from Margie Vandeven and Zora Mulligan.

Vandeven is the commissioner of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and Mulligan is the commissioner of the Missouri Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development.

Missouri's schools will not resume classes before at least April 6, and even if that statewide closure is not extended beyond that date, local school officials have the option to extend closure, according to a news release from Parson's office.

Parson said the closure of all 555 Missouri public school districts and charter schools impacts nearly 915,000 students.

Schools continue to offer meals to children, even though the buildings themselves are closed, and Vandeven said with school's funding based on attendance, "We are working in accordance with Missouri state statute to ensure that our school leaders are able to make school attendance decisions based on the safety and well-being of their students and staff."

According to state law, whenever an "infectious disease, contagion, epidemic, plague or similar condition" substantially reduces school attendance for an extended time during a school year, school funds will next be apportioned based on the "school year next preceding the year in which such condition existed."

The news release from Parson's office said the state's school aid payments next year can instead "be based on the highest of a district's first or second preceding year's (average daily attendance)." DESE made that change following Parson's signature of an executive order that eased regulatory burdens during the current public health emergency.

Also starting with next year, under state law, schools will not have to make up school hours lost or canceled due to emergencies including contagious disease, "if the district has an alternative methods of instruction plan approved by the department of elementary and secondary education for such school year."

Parson's office said "Schools will not be required to make up the days/hours lost due to COVID-19 this school year, and missed calendar hours will not affect the calculation of average daily attendance."

In higher education, Mulligan said there have been temporary changes made to the A+ Scholarship program, reflecting that closures of high schools and colleges:

High school seniors working toward A+ eligibility will only need half the amount of required tutoring or mentoring hours, and students with a cumulative grade point average of 2.5 at the end of the fall 2019 or spring 2020 semesters will be eligible.

College students using the A+ Scholarship will only have to meet their school's "satisfactory academic progress requirements" for online classes, instead of having to maintain a minimum 2.5 GPA.

The A+ Scholarship program supports high school graduates who attend participating public community colleges, vocational or technical schools, and certain private two-year vocational or technical schools.

The changes to the program only apply to 2020 high school seniors and 2019-20 college students, though additional changes may come as the situation evolves.

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