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First Missouri Coronavirus Case Is In St. Louis County

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson announces the state's first case of COVID-19 in St. Louis County on March 8, 2020.
Corinne Ruff | St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson announces the state's first case of COVID-19 in St. Louis County.

Updated at 8 p.m. March 10 with confirmation from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Tuesday that a 20-year-old woman in St. Louis County has tested positive for COVID-19, the disease spread by the new coronavirus. 

Original story from March 8:

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.

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page says the woman took care to keep others from contracting the virus once she started feeling sick. She called the county coronavirus hotline, and local health officials told her she met the criteria for testing.

“This person returned home, they followed all the proper procedures for the quarantine,” Page said. When they became symptomatic, they were tested in a local facility; everyone in that local facility followed all the proper precautions.”

County health department workers arranged for her to visit Mercy Hospital St. Louis, where doctors evaluated her in a pressurized room to ensure other people wouldn’t be exposed. The doctors sent a sample to a state-run diagnostic lab, which found she had the virus. 

Mercy Hospital St. Louis discharged the woman Saturday because she was not sick enough to be hospitalized. The self-quarantine will last 14 days after she no longer has symptoms.  

The woman's isolation will not be supervised. “What we found is that everyone is very cooperative. They understand the risk that they put others to,” Page said.


He 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 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.

Risk still low

The woman arrived at O’Hare airport in Chicago on March 4. She spent a few days in the city before returning home on an Amtrak train. 

After she returned to her family’s house in Ladue, she developed a fever and had trouble breathing.

State and county health officials are trying to track down anyone she came into contact with to see if they are showing symptoms of the virus. If they are sick, health officials will test them to see if they have the disease. 

The woman didn’t have symptoms while she was in Chicago or traveling, which means those she encountered on her trip are still at a low risk of contracting the virus, doctors said.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials say the new coronavirus is spread through water droplets that are dispersed when someone with the virus coughs or through prolonged close contact with an infected person. That means those who aren't showing symptoms are less likely to spread the disease to others.

Federal funding coming soon

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. 

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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.

An emerging problem in the U.S. 

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.

The state laboratory has been the only place authorized to conduct tests, but commercial labs will soon be able to do so this week, Williams said.

That means doctors from local clinics and hospitals will be able to order the tests without approval from state or federal officials. 

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 temperature. The infected woman is 20 years old. Her age was also incorrect in the article.

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David is the health, science and arts & culture editor for St. Louis Public Radio.
Corinne is the economic development reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.
Sarah Fentem is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.