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State employees, lawmakers create distance from work as coronavirus cases climb

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMIZ)

Cole County confirmed its first case of COVID-19 in a surprise news conference Tuesday, as the state government takes precautions to limit the spread.

The number of confirmed cases climbed to 15 on Tuesday, according to Gov. Mike Parson. New cases include one in Cole County, the home of the state government.

Parson announced the same day that his office will begin daily briefings from his office in the capitol. To watch Tuesday's conference in full, click here.

State lawmakers are expediting the budget process as a response to the coronavirus pandemic. The House Budget Committee went though amendments to the roughly $30 billion budget in a rare Sunday hearing. The full House of Representatives was set to do the same on Wednesday, but that plan changed Tuesday night.

Rep. Kip Kendrick, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said the chamber will only cover a fraction of the state budget, focusing on the most vital items.

Kendrick said he expects to have a quorum on Wednesday, however, he did not expect there to be many more than 100 state representatives present. There are 163 members of the House.

Officials directed employees of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to work from home, according to an internal email obtained by ABC 17 News.

The Chief of the Bureau of Emergency Medical Services said in the email that all divisions of DHSS are to work from home.

In part, the email read, "Given the uncertainties associated with the COVID-19 outbreak, this mode of operation is in place for an indefinite period of time."

DHSS Director Randall Williams said the department will be able to function fully while taking necessary precautions.

"(The) government has to operate, but we want to do that as safely as we can. So for those employees who can work from home, and it’s not all of them, but for those who can, it’s part of our social distancing which will flatten this curve," Williams said Tuesday.

The Cole County Health Department on Monday announced a prohibition of gatherings of 50 people or more. The aim of the ban is to halt the spread of the virus, which is capable of infecting hopping from person-to-person before displaying symptoms.

Parson said at the conference the government plans to roll out a massive testing effort in the coming weeks. Thousands will be able to be tested daily in early April, he said.

Cole / Governor of Missouri / Jefferson City / News / Politics / Top Stories / Top Stories

Barry Mangold

Barry Mangold reports for ABC 17 News on weekday evenings and anchors weekend evening broadcasts.

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