U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt came to Springfield with some good news and a sunny outlook on the coronavirus Friday.
The good news came first in remarks at Jordan Valley Community Health Center: Missouri will see $9.9 million in federal money to aid preparations for the virus within the next 30 days.
"That will be available very quickly, so the state will be able to plan on that," Blunt said.
Blunt, a Republican, then stressed the need to avoid panic over a disease that has infected more than 100,000 people and killed more than 3,400, mostly in China.
Even as the U.S. caseload reached 250 Friday, Blunt stressed that it’s not clear how big of a problem the disease, officially known as COVID-19, will become. (There were no confirmed cases in Missouri as of Friday afternoon.)
He noted that other epidemics like SARS, the swine flu and the avian flu “have normally turned out to be much less of a problem than what was anticipated they might be."
He also said that while it’s reasonable for news outlets to report on the dangers, it’s also reasonable for people to hope those dangers never materialize.
Blunt also brushed off criticism of the federal government’s recent struggles to make tests for the virus widely available.
Testing is important because it helps experts identify cases and understand how the disease is spreading. But problems with initial kits from the Centers for Disease Control and narrow criteria for testing limited the government’s ability to accurately assess the virus spread,according to the Washington Post.
Public health expertstold the Postthey worried the delay had allowed the virus to spread long before they could take action to contain it.
Blunt had a different take.
“The test criticism, I think, was not valid,” he said, “You have to have a test that will work before you widely disseminate that test, and that took three weeks to get that done.”
Blunt added that “every test that needed to be done was done” and pointed out the government has since taken steps to significantly increase the number of tests available. Health care providers in hard-hit states likeNew York andCaliforniahave said they still need more.
Blunt nevertheless said he's confident in the Trump administration’s current preparations for the disease.
“We've got the best health care system in the world, we've got the best health research system in the world, we've got the best infectious disease system in the world and they are all engaged,” Blunt said. “I think we are ready now.”
Some of the state's top public health experts said the same thing about Missouri earlier in the week.
State health director Randall Williams told a Missouri House committee Monday he’s been having daily meetings on the issue since late January and has had productive conversations with local health providers.
Williams also noted Missouri can now test for the disease in-state and get results in 6 hours, which he said would aid efforts to help patients and contain the virus.
Gov. Mike Parson tweeted Thursday that "nearly 17 people" had been tested for the virus in the state so far.
Local officials said Friday that four people in Greene County have been tested and five more being monitored.
Williams and others offered the following advice to protect public health:
Wash your hands. Use sanitizer or get a bar of soap and wash with hot water for 20 seconds;
If you feel sick, stay home unless you’re going to get medical care. Call your provider with questions and let them know if you’re coming in so they can prepare;
Expect to wait 14 days before symptoms abate in earnest and to wait 10-14 days after that before resuming normal activities.
Experts are also asking people to refrain from buying face masks intended to keep sick people from transmitting the virus unless they're actually sick.