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Testing Aims To Better Understand Coronavirus Spread Across Missouri

Provided photo from Phelps Health of triage station 04-27-20
Phelps Health
The outdoor triage station at Phelps Health served as a coronavirus testing site for two days as part of a state initiative to gather more data.

Updated at 2 p.m. with comments from Department of Health and Senior Services

Expanded testing for coronavirus this week in Missouri is the first snapshot of how the virus is spreading throughout the state. 

Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Department of Health and Senior Services, said Wednesday that 4,000 tests will be given this week, regardless if people have symptoms. 

“We now have enough tests to also look at specific populations, the asymptomatic people, we can do 50,000 tests a week now,” Williams said.

Williams said eight of the locations were chosen because they are rural, plus sites in an under-tested ward in Kansas City. A planned test of 5,000 people in St. Louis County and future testing in St. Louis will make sure the metro area is covered.

Williams said more of these snapshot testing weeks are coming, and he is confident there will be enough tests to find, isolate and control outbreaks of the coronavirus that come up as the state continues to reopen businesses and public places. 

Our original story from 4/27/20:

ROLLA — Eight health agencies around the state have started giving free coronavirus tests to compile data to better understand the spread of the virus.

Unlike other tests, people without symptoms can get tested.

One of those locations was at the drive-through triage area at Phelps Health Medical Center in Rolla. The testing comes as the state and some local governments are easing stay-at-home orders and opening public places and businesses.


"The more information you have, the better armed you’re going to be able to be in making any decisions as it relates to COVID,” said Ed Clayton, president and CEO of Phelps Health. “Whether it’s reopening, whether it’s just understanding what’s going on in your population.”

The Department of Health and Senior Services did not immediately respond to a request about why each location was chosen. Officials in Phelps County say they might have been chosen because the hospital was proactive in setting up a remote triage center weeks ago, even though the area has had only two cases so far.

“This will help us have better data,” said Ashley Wann, director of the Phelps-Maries County Health Department. “And have an idea if I do have an asymptomatic transmission going on in the community that I don’t know about, or if I do have a few little hot spots of very mild cases, that we can see those, we can reach out, we can isolate those and knock them down."

A limited number of tests are available to people who register ahead of time. Each health department has been allotted different numbers of tests with slightly different time frames this week. 

Phelps County tested 400 people Sunday and Monday. Kansas City’s health department is testing people Monday through Wednesday.

Other testing locations are in Kirksville, Albany, Charleston, Maryville, Perryville, Marshall, Branson and Kennett. People wishing to be tested can register here

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanAhl

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

Jonathan is the Rolla correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.