University of Missouri students and faculty who attended a journalism conference in New Orleans last weekend are self-isolating after a conference attendee tested presumptively positive for the new coronavirus.

The attendee who tested positive wasn’t an MU student or faculty member. No cases of coronavirus, or COVID-19, have been reported at MU.

The National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting conference took place March 5-8 in New Orleans.

“Late Tuesday evening, the University of Missouri was made aware that a small group of MU faculty and students had attended a conference in New Orleans this past weekend where one of the attendees who was not part of the MU group tested ’presumptive positive” for the coronavirus,“ read a statement issued by Bill Stackman, vice president for student affairs, and Jamie Shutter, executive director for student health.

Faculty and students who attended the conference have been directed to stay home, the statement reads. The Columbia Missourian newsroom was shut down Wednesday morning for disinfecting. Student reporters and faculty were working remotely.

Clare Roth, an MU journalism student who does freelance work for the Tribune, is one of the students in isolation. She’s not in Columbia.

She said those who had any close contact with the person at the conference who tested presumptive positive would be notified and she hasn’t been notified.

“I just don’t want to spread it to anybody and I hope that I don’t have it,” Roth said. “I don’t like the fact that I can’t do things, but it’s better than spreading the virus.”

The local impact of the coronavirus continues to grow even without any cases of the fatal disease in Columbia. So far, only one case of COVID-19 has been reported in Missouri.

Democratic state Senate candidate Judy Baker of Columbia has canceled all her campaign events.

“In light of the growing COVID-19 epidemic, it would be irresponsible of us to hold social gatherings,” Baker wrote in an email to supporters.

In Rolla, the Missouri University of Science and Technology announced it was canceling all university-sponsored events associated with the annual St. Pat’s Celebration and the university’s Teaching and Learning Technology Conference.

The university reported that the Phelps County Health Department reported Wednesday that a patient is being isolated for COVID-19 testing.

“Canceling events associated with one of our university’s most celebrated traditions was a very difficult decision,” Chancellor Mo Dehghani said in a news release.

The cancellations were made out of caution, he said.

“Although there are no confirmed cases of the coronavirus on campus or in the Rolla area, we cannot take the risk of exposing thousands of people at events that attract visitors from all over the state – even from around the nation,” Dehghani said.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services activated a statewide public hotline on Wednesday for citizens or providers needing guidance regarding the coronavirus. The number is 877-435-8411. It is being operated by medical professionals 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

At the Journalism School, none of the students who attended the conference are showing any symptoms of the virus.

Information about the potential exposure began circulating Tuesday night.

“People were talking about it on Twitter,” Roth said.

Around 20 MU students and faculty members attended the conference, she said.

A statement about the presumptive positive conference attendee had been posted on the Investigative Reporters and Editors website. The website crashed, but Roth said she received screenshots of the statement.

The statement read that the conference attendee had mild symptoms and was expected to recover. The attendee was staying in isolation for 14 days, it read.

Not long after that, the MU conference attendees received an email from journalism professor Michael Jenner.

It asks those who attended the conference to self-isolate until directed otherwise “out of an abundance of caution.”

Jenner wrote that students would not be penalized for missing class.

Roth said she has been told if she were to have a cough, fever, or shortness of breath, she’s been told to call the local health department.

She attended a class via online video conference Wednesday morning, she said.

The Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human services and experts at MU Health Care were notified of the situation, the university statement reads.

The virus has infected more than 1,000 people in the U.S. and killed at least 30, with one state after another recording its first infections in quick succession, the Associated Press reports.

More than 119,000 people have been infected worldwide and more than 4,200 have died.

The vast majority of people recover. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

rmckinney@columbiatribune.com

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