Columbia area leaders working together to respond to spread of COVID-19/Coronavirus

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COLUMBIA – Officials say Columbia area municipalities are prepared to adapt if COVID-19 comes to the area, urging people to stay calm and follow common sense precautions.

“As a healthcare community, Columbia is on the leading edge of this potential threat,” Mayor Brian Treece said at a news conference Thursday morning. “But being on the leading edge also means that you are a leader in that response.”

Officials from the City of Columbia, MU, MU Health and numerous other local municipalities have coordinated their contingency plans with each other to ensure a local outbreak of COVID-19 would be handled smoothly.

“We have a plan. We’ve practiced parts of that plan as recently as yesterday afternoon with the University,” Treece said

MU Health leaders said they are equipped to handle an influx in patients, but asked people who think they may have the virus to follow steps to help keep hospitals available for the people who need care the most.  

“We ask that you stay home, and if you get sick, call your physician and get advice,” MU Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Stevan Whitt said.

The hospital system will only test patients they think could actually have the virus.

“We will not be testing everyone. We test people who have indications for tests with those tests,” Whitt said. “If you don’t have indications for those tests, we don’t.”

MU Chancellor Alexander Cartwright said the University is asking students and faculty to use common sense to avoid spreading any illness.

“We’ve made it clear we don’t want people traveling to level three countries,” Cartwright said.

China, Italy, Iran and South Korea were all level three health notice countries as of Thursday afternoon, according to the CDC.

When it comes to preventing the spread of the virus, experts said to make sure you follow basic hygiene steps.

“Wash your hands often,” said Stephanie Browning, Director of Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services. “Avoid touching your eyes, nose, mouth with your unwashed hands.”

She said when it comes to covering coughs and sneezes, it’s important to do it a specific way.

"Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue,” she said. “If you don’t have a tissue, cough into your elbow.”