Gov. Mike Parson is holding daily press briefings to get the word out about how the state is dealing with COVID-19. Several cabinet members joined him. Here’s what they had to say:

Gov. Mike Parson

There have been 28 people who have tested positive for the coronavirus. One of those patients – from mid-Missouri’s Boone County – died Wednesday from the respiratory disease.

Parson opened up today’s briefing by saying he is not ready to order businesses to close. He pointed to the diversity within Missouri’s urban and rural communities.

“Making a decision like that is much easier said than done,” says Parson. “I don’t think it’s the right thing to do at this time. There is a lot more that goes into the decision than simply just telling businesses to close their doors. That being said, this is not a decision we are taking lightly.”

Parson says the state is reviewing whether Missouri will speed up the process to get benefits to unemployed workers affected by the coronavirus. He expects thousands of Missourians to lose their jobs due to consequences of the respiratory virus.

Department of Labor Director Anna Hui says the state’s Shared Work program is an alternative for businesses facing a decline of 20% to 40% in available work.

Missouri Department of Labor Director Anna Hui

“For the hours that they actually work, then they are paid at their regular rate,” she says. “For the hours they are no longer working, they will then be able to collect unemployment insurance for that day. This program, in particular, helps to lower the immediate impact on the unemployment insurance trust fund. It also allows for employees to be paid at a higher rate.”

Benefits are available up to 52 weeks.

As for state workers, Parson says state government must still function. However, departments are taking precautions to ensure the health and safety of employees.

The Missouri House has passed a plan that would include $33 million in emergency federal funds during the current state budget year to handle the coronavirus outbreak. The governor’s state emergency declaration freed up another $7 million in state funding elsewhere in the current budget. Several Democrats say the amount is not enough and Republicans think it is but say lawmakers could add more money later if necessary. The plan heads to the Senate, which is on break until at least March 30.

Governor Parson says he’ll be meeting with House and Senate leaders soon to discuss the budget.

“We’re going to all have to rethink the budget process this year about where we are financially. But this is a lot more than COVID-19. This is thousands of people losing their jobs. This is businesses closing down. There’s a lot of things that are going to be at stake. For me as governor, I want it to be about as wide open as we can make it to deal with COVID-19,” says Parson.

MO HealthNet Director Todd Richardson

Through the end of the federal emergency declaration, the Missouri Department of Social Services will not remove patients from Medicaid unless they ask to have their coverage stopped or move out of state. MO Healthnet Director Todd Richardson says the move is consistent with a federal coronavirus response plan passed by Congress this week.

“Additionally, Missouri HealthNet will be extending 90 days of coverage to Missourians age 19 to 64 who meet the income and resource requirements to the current program and test positive for coronavirus 19,” says Richardson.

Richardson, a former speaker of the Missouri House of Representatives, says Missourians who are on Medicaid will not be charged copays for coronavirus testing. The state has also relaxed early refill policies to allow those on Medicaid to more easily get their prescriptions.

Missouri will be asking the federal government to let the state streamline some requirements for healthcare providers responding to the coronavirus. Richardson says the changes involve prior authorization requirements, enrollment, licensing and revalidation of providers.

“As well as removing restrictions as necessary on the number of beds and length of stays that can happen at a critical access hospital,” says Richardson. “It will also give our providers the flexibility to provide care in alternative settings.”

To enable health providers to serve Medicaid patients, the state is fast-tracking new provider enrollment applications and waiving requirements like application fees and on-site visits.

For 90 days, the state is also waiving all food stamp work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents.

Child Care subsidy benefits have been extended for 90 days. The Child Care Subsidy program will work on a case-by-case basis to approve additional hours of care for families affected by COVID-19. Child Care Subsidy provider application renewals are extended for 90 days.

Missouri Department of Public Safety workers are organizing personal protective gear for health providers and first responders on the front lines. So far, 27 hospitals and 44 emergency management service agencies have requested the equipment. Missouri Department of Public Safety Director Sandy Karsten says the state will get the supplies to first responders after more comes in next week.

All of Missouri’s K-12 public and charter schools have closed. Parson did not order them to shutter – locals school leaders made the decision. The governor has defended his decision many times since day one as being a local control issue.

Missouri prison inmates will also be doing their part. They will be making hand sanitizer to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Parson says they will produce more than 2,400 gallons of sanitizer every two days.

Listen to the full briefing below:

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