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story.lead_photo.caption Gov. Mike Parson speaks at a daily press briefing Thursday, March 19, 2020, at the Missouri Capitol. Photo by Liv Paggiarino / News Tribune.
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Missouri Gov. Mike Parson asked the federal government Wednesday to declare a major disaster for the entire state so state and local governments would have more assistance to respond to the spread and effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Parson also shifted millions of more dollars from the state's budget to purchase more personal protective equipment, or PPE, for medical providers and first responders, while a St. Louis senator has specifically called for millions more respirator face masks to be ordered.

The St. Louis area has been particularly affected by infections of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, according to the test results posted by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

Of the 356 positive cases in Missouri as of Wednesday afternoon, 129 cases were in St. Louis County, with another 44 in St. Louis City — together, almost half of the reported cases in the state.

In Cole County, there have been seven cases, according to the Cole County Health Department.

Deaths from the disease, of which DHSS reported eight, have been across the state, including in Boone County.

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.

"Two days ago, 31-year-old Jazmond Dixon became the first known St. Louis City casualty of the coronavirus," Sen. Karla May, D-St. Louis, said in a news release Wednesday.

In that same news release, May called for five or more mobile testing centers to be available in each of Missouri's 114 counties, "especially in medically-under-served areas."

She also called for infection hot spots in the state to be identified and receive "immediate medical intervention and containment," as well as for the purchase and distribution every two weeks of 12 million respirator face masks for families, workers, health care facilities and first responders in all Missouri counties.

Sandra Karsten, director of the Missouri Department of Public Safety, said Tuesday that the state had purchased 4.2 million N95 respirators, at a cost of $10 million.

Those masks were among $17.3 million of PPE orders that had been placed with marketers of all sizes, "from major suppliers to vendors on Amazon," Karsten said.

The $17.3 million was out of $18 million available that Parson had redirected from state departments' budgets.

Karsten on Wednesday said Parson had shifted $11 million more from other budget areas to purchase more PPE, which includes items such as goggles, gloves, surgical gowns and masks, and hand sanitizer.

The federal assistance Parson requested would include assistance for local governments and qualifying nonprofits with emergency response expenses, including first responders.

He also requested the Federal Emergency Management Agency "assist with debris removal expenses, if needed, for the removal and disposal of bio-hazard and other contaminated materials as a result of the pandemic response," according to a news release.

FEMA assistance for individuals and families dealing with unemployment and for state and local authorities needing aid to provide mental health services is also being sought through a major disaster declaration.

The state is also turning to industry for what assistance it can offer.

Many consumers rushed to buy PPE as the spread of COVID-19 across the country first became apparent, and other states are also in need of the same supplies as they contend with even faster-growing counts of infection.

"We are working with manufacturers, suppliers and sales companies all across the state, right now — those that might have the opportunity to shift their production lines," said Rob Dixon, director of the Missouri Department of Economic Development.

"Manufacturing does not shift on a dime. It's not something you can turn on and off like that," Dixon cautioned.

There are companies making the switch, however; Karsten cited a company the state is working with that has changed one of its factories into "a production facility for PPE masks and gowns."

She said the plant "has the capability to produce and ship 1 million masks a day. This is exactly the type of creative adaptation that's going to help us win the battle against COVID-19."

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