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story.lead_photo.caption Gov. Mike Parson speaks at a daily press briefing Thursday, March 19, 2020, on the status of coronavirus measures in the state at the Missouri Capitol. Photo by Liv Paggiarino / News Tribune.
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All Missourians will have to work together to get through the COVID-19 pandemic, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said Friday.

State residents will have to practice social distancing and work together to help prevent the spread of the disease, Parson said.

"This is a public health emergency," he said. "And we need uniform social distancing across the state."

He told Randall Williams, director of the state Department of Health and Senior Services, on Friday to require social distancing, Parson said at a Friday afternoon press briefing on COVID-19.

"It will be targeted to gatherings of more than 10 people, that will be prohibited," Parson said. "This order will make statewide restrictions on gatherings of people."

The order is not about shutting places down but about protecting the health and safety of Missouri residents, he said. The order is to be tailored to avoid restrictions on businesses and organizations that promote the health and safety of Missourians, he said.

It will not apply to religious services, hospitals, grocery stores, pharmacies or other "cornerstones of communities."

"This order will also not apply to functions of state government," Parson said. "We will release further details (today) at the briefing."

The order is expected to go into effect late Saturday.

Parson said he wanted to get the word out before the weekend began and that he will share more details Saturday. He emphasized that the order is not about shutting down businesses in Missouri.

A few minutes before the Friday briefing, the Governor's Office was notified that a second Missouri resident had died of novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. That person lived in Jackson County.

Shortly after the briefing, the Cole County Health Department announced the third positive case in the county.

Data indicate COVID-19 poses a higher risk of death for older patients and for those with compromised immune systems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now saying that the disease is also more fatal for people with asthma and for pregnant women. Younger people are generally not affected as severely unless they have an underlying health issue.

Health officials identified about 20 new cases in Missouri in the 24 hours preceding the Friday briefing, bringing the total to nearly 50.

Numerous businesses that have closed to help prevent the spread of the virus — such as restaurants, book stores, hotels and others — have offered to let the state use their locations or resources for temporary hospitals or other uses, Parson said.

He said he's floored by what people are offering to do to help.

"I'm humbled every day to be the leader of Missouri and find out how many people in Missouri step up," Parson said. "And we've got a lot of days we've got to go through. This is just the beginning."

At a bare minimum, the state will be under the influence of COVID-19 for two to three months, he said. So having all those resources available is important.

"This thing changes so rapidly every day," he said. "I don't know what the decisions will be tomorrow — about what we'll be doing. But I guarantee it will be for the benefit of the people of Missouri."

Parson reassured Missouri residents that for the people who meet the federal guidelines to receive COVID-19 tests, the tests are available.

The state is looking to a point when everyone who wants to be treated can be treated, he said. But, he added, it's not going to happen in the near future.

"The supply is not there to do it," he said. "You still have to take care of the people who need it — the people who test positive."

The screening for who should receive tests is working, Williams said.

Only 6 percent of patients who meet the CDC criteria to receive the tests come back positive, he continued. Private testing facilities have a much lower percentage of positive tests, he added.

"If you have symptoms — including coughing, fever and shortness of breath — we very much want you to identify yourself to a (health care) provider," Williams said. "But, at this point, we feel like the amount of tests versus the number that come back positive is reassuring."

Shortly, he continued, the state will lower its standard for screening possible patients. Mobile sites in Springfield and St. Louis are doing many more tests than the state lab, Williams said.

"We'll be moving away in probably about 10 days from our international (screening)," he said, because the state tests are oftentimes done for people who have traveled. "You'll see that less because we have less travel coming back in. And we'll move to more domestic or statewide criteria."

This article was updated at 5:15 p.m. with additional details.

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