The hotline comes as the Missouri University of Science and Technology canceled all university-sponsored events for the annual St. Pat's Celebration and Phelps Health announced that a patient has been isolated for COVID-19 testing.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) opened a statewide hotline today for citizens and providers seeking guidance on novel coronavirus. 

Medical professionals are operating the hotline 24/7 at (877) 435-8411, the DHSS said.

The hotline comes as the Missouri University of Science and Technology canceled all university-sponsored events for the annual St. Pat’s Celebration and Phelps Health announced that a patient has been isolated for COVID-19 testing.

Phelps Health received the test results on Thursday from the Missouri State Public Health Laboratory that patient does not have COVID-19.

One patient in Missouri has tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, as of Wednesday, the DHSS said. 

Meanwhile, Phelps Health said they were closely monitoring the situation and there is no elevated risk to the community. 

Phelps Health has been monitoring the development of COVID-19 and began preparing for the virus in January. Chief Medical Officer for Phelps Health Hospital, Nathan Ratchford, M.D., reported at a board meeting in February that Phelps Health had a policy and measures in place to prepare for the possibility of the novel coronavirus outbreak reaching the area.

Ratchford said Phelps Health had modeled its policy over what was done previously with the influenza outbreaks, and that Phelps Health is following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to the letter.  

There has been a group convening weekly now who have been planning for the what-if situations based on different CDC recommendations, he said. If Phelps Health did have an infected person present in the facility, staff would work with the state and the CDC on how to manage it best, Ratchford said.

Health experts are still learning the details of how COVID-19 spreads from person to person. The DHSS said the most recent evidence points to people infected with the virus coughing and sneezing within six feet of a non-infected person. 

Close personal contact such as touching or shaking hands, touching an object or surface with the virus on it and then touching your mouth, nose and eyes may be other methods of transmission, the DHSS said.

In rare cases, contact with feces could be another method of transmission, the department said.

People diagnosed with COVID-19 have reported fever, cough and difficulty breathing that may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure to the virus. Over 80 percent of people infected recover after mild symptoms, according to the DHSS.

State health officials recommend that the public:

— Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

— Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

— Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol if soap and water are not available.   

“For those who may be at risk for COVID-19, we encourage them to utilize this hotline or call their health care provider or local public health agency to inform them of their travel history and symptoms. They’ll be instructed on how to receive care without exposing others to the possible illness," DHSS Director Randall Williams said in a release on Wednesday.

Residents seeking more information on COVID-19 can visit www.health.mo.gov/coronavirus or the CDC’s COVID-19 website.