Governor Parson Highlights Missouri Testing Capacity as State Prepares to Reopen on May 4

 — As Missouri prepares to reopen economic and social activity on May 4, Governor Mike Parson today highlighted the state’s COVID-19 testing capacity. 

Expanding testing capacity is one of the four essential pillars of the state’s “Show Me Strong Recovery” Plan: 

  1. Expand testing capacity and volume in the state
  2. Expand reserves of PPE by opening public and private supply chains 
  3. Continue to monitor and, if necessary, expand hospital and health care system capacity
  4. Improve ability to predict potential outbreaks using Missouri's public health data

“One of the important pillars of our recovery plan is testing capacity,” Governor Parson said. “Between the state health lab and at least 15 private labs and participating health care institutions, approximately 50,000 tests could be performed each week.” 

Testing capacity in Missouri continues to increase. Between the Missouri State Public Health Laboratory and at least 15 private national and in-state laboratories and participating health care institutions, approximately 50,000 tests could be performed in Missouri each week if needed. 

Due to this increased access to testing, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) last week expanded its testing criteria to allow more groups of people to be tested by the state laboratory. Rapid point-of-care testing devices from Abbott have also been deployed throughout Missouri. 

Along with greater testing capacity, there is also greater access to testing for patients throughout Missouri. There are now more than 125 sample collection sites located throughout the state, and mobile outreach is happening in some areas to reach populations that may be unable to get to a testing site. 

Missouri has also shifted to an aggressive “box-in” approach with testing. This strategy will allow positive patients to be identified and isolated as soon as possible to prevent the virus from spreading further in the community. 

Additionally, the state is now utilizing “community sampling” in specific counties, which involves testing both symptomatic and asymptomatic people to potentially identify individuals who unknowingly have COVID-19 and isolate them before they spread the virus. 

Also during today’s briefing, Governor Parson was joined by Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations (DOLIR) Director Anna Hui, Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Director Carol Comer, and Missouri Department of Mental Health (DMH) Director Mark Stringer for updates on their respective departments. 

Department of Labor and Industrial Relations

Over the past few weeks, DOLIR has processed hundreds of thousand of initial unemployment claims and made hundreds of millions of dollar of payments to eligible claimants. 

Last week, Missouri was one of 10 states that implemented the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program (PUA) to take claims. DOLIR has already processed and paid thousands of eligible claimants a PUA weekly benefit and the $600 federal supplement. 

Additionally, the Department has trained over 100 additional staff from DOLIR and other state agencies, as well as third party vendor staff, to support the unemployment program. DOLIR is preparing to hire 50 - 100 more temporary staff for additional support.

DOLIR has added an online Unemployment Virtual Assistant to answer incoming questions about various unemployment benefit programs. More than 90 percent of Missourians have been able to file claims online through the UInteract system, and DOLIR continues to implement additional options to better assist claimants with their questions. 

Department of Natural Resources

Director Comer announced the first phase in resuming normal operations at Missouri State Parks, a division of DNR. 

While the vast majority of Missouri state parks and historic sites have remained open for day use, Missouri State Parks has implemented a number of measures designed to maintain required social distancing and protect visitors and team members.

Based on current conditions, Missouri State Parks is implementing the following measures in phase one of the return to normal operations:

  • On May 4, concession-operated lodging, dining, marina, and retail operations will begin reopening at the discretion of the individual concessionaires and following Governor Parson’s recommended guidelines.
  • On May 11, Castlewood State Park, Elephant Rocks State Park, Watkins Woolen Mill State Historic Site and State Park, and Weston Bend State Park will reopen for day use only.
  • On May 18, the off-road-vehicle riding area at St. Joe State Park will reopen and will require daily permits to be purchased online. Quantities may be limited to manage capacity.   
  • Park campgrounds and park-run lodging will remain closed through May 18. Missouri State Parks continues to evaluate public-health data, applicable social-distancing guidelines, and operational requirements to determine when it would be appropriate to resume these operations.
  • Visitor centers, park offices, tours, programs, group camps, enclosed shelters, playgrounds, pools, and beaches will remain closed as Missouri State Parks evaluates the implementation of phase one. Events, including third-party events planned in the month of May, may be postponed or cancelled.

Department of Mental Health

The state’s community mental health centers and substance use treatment providers serve over 130,000 people annually. When the COVID-19 crisis started, the entire community system pivoted in a matter of days to a virtual telehealth model of care to continue helping these individuals and their families.

In addition to caring for their own patients and clients, these providers are also providing mental health services to front line workers in other parts of the health care system through virtual services and special phone lines.

For Missourians struggling to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal Disaster Distress Helpline (800-985-5990) is an important resource. It is staffed with mental health professionals who can talk with you and, if you need more help than they can provide, connect you with services in Missouri. These services are free and completely confidential. 

Additionally, the DMH website has a list of other resources to help individuals and families cope with the strains of COVID-19. 

Pictures from today’s briefing are available on Governor Parson’s Flickr page.