ST. LOUIS – A 20-year-old St. Louis County woman who was studying in Italy is now presumed to be the state’s first confirmed case of COVID-19, the disease spread by the new coronavirus.
Gov. Mike Parson and other officials announced late Saturday that the woman is in isolation at home with members of her family, who also have been in isolation.
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Mercy Hospital St. Louis discharged the patient Saturday because she was not sick enough to be hospitalized. The self-quarantine will last 14 days after the patient no longer has symptoms.
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said the woman will not be supervised. “What we found is that everyone is very cooperative. They understand the risk that they put others to,” he said.
Page urged people to “keep things in perspective,” adding that it is not a time to panic.
Health officials expect the woman, who attends an out-of-state college, to begin improving immediately.
Local health officials are identifying people who the woman came in contact with to monitor any symptoms they may have and try to contain the spread of the virus, state officials said.
A test analyzed by the Missouri State Public Health Laboratory has been sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, officials said. It could take up to five days for the CDC to confirm the case.
“I am confident in the work of the Department of Health and Senior Services and the St. Louis County Public Health Department and know that they will do what they can to protect the health and safety of Missouri communities,” Parson said.
He held a press conference in Clayton with local officials to announce the case.
U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, who attended the press conference, said the federal government will distribute millions of test kits to state governments over the next few days.
She also said this week Congress passed a $7.8 billion emergency funding package that will allow government officials to respond to the spread of the coronavirus by buying new medical supplies and researching possible vaccines.
The aid package includes $2.2 billion for the CDC to support state and local officials.
“I’m grateful to learn testing is going to be accessible at the state and local academic level, providing more direct testing for patients without a bureaucratic mess going through the federal government,” she said.
In a statement, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said Missouri will receive nearly $10 million to support response efforts, including additional test kits and protective equipment.
“I will remain in touch with Gov. Parson, Dr. Page and local officials to ensure they have what they need to respond,” he said.
The new coronavirus emerged late last year in China and has since spread to more than 80 countries, including the U.S. The virus spreads the COVID-19 disease, which has killed more than 3,200 people worldwide. For many people, the symptoms can be mild, but for some, they can be severe.
There have been five confirmed cases in Illinois, all in the Chicago area. State and local health officials are monitoring its spread and are prepared to quarantine those who test positive.
As concern over the new coronavirus spreads nationwide, the county has sought to respond quickly, Page said.
That involves working closely with state and local agencies to rapidly identify and respond to any cases, said Spring Schmidt, co-director of the St. Louis County Department of Public Health.
“We understand that there is serious concern about this virus and the potential escalation surrounding positive cases in our community,” Schmidt said. “Our department, local public health and local public safety agencies are working closely with state and federal agencies to quickly identify and respond to cases that might occur. We can’t stress the importance of taking protective measures enough.”
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has tested 26 people for COVID-19 including the St. Louis County woman. Three other tests are in progress.
Randall Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, said the travel-acquired case is what state health officials have been expecting.
“Every Missourian wants to know what they can do and our message remains the same — good hand washing, situational awareness,” he said.
Health officials are expected to be able to test more people in the coming days after the government distributes more of the kits.
Williams said the hallmark signs of the virus include at least a 100.4-degree fever and a dry cough.
Corrections: One sign of the coronavirus is a fever of 100.4 degrees or more. An earlier version of this article listed the wrong number. The infected woman is 20 years old. Her age was also incorrect in the article.
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