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22 inmates test positive for coronavirus at Missouri prison

Nearly two dozen inmates at a prison in southeast Missouri have tested positive for the coronavirus, the first outbreak of the illness inside a correctional facility in the state.

Missouri Department of Corrections spokeswoman Karen Pojmann said late Thursday that three inmates in a wing at the Southeast Correctional Center in Charleston tested positive earlier this week for COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. The department then tested all 64 residents of the wing along with 82 staff members.

The testing found that 19 additional inmates had the virus. The wing has been quarantined since April 15, when the first inmate was tested and put in an isolation unit.

None of the recently-tested staff members tested positive. Three staff members who tested positive in early April are in quarantine at home.

Pojmann said no inmates at any other Missouri prison have been found with the illness.

Prisons have been a major focus of concern because inmates live in small cells, eat and exercise in groups, and hygiene is often questionable. A massive outbreak in Ohio has sickened nearly 4,000 inmates.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

The number of confirmed cases in Missouri increased by 200 on Friday to 6,506, and deaths rose by 10 to 252, according to Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering, which is monitoring cases worldwide.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson is expected on Friday to outline details of how businesses can reopen starting May 4, following weeks of closure aimed at slowing the spread of the virus.

The Republican governor announced last week that the statewide stay-at-home order would end on May 3, with businesses resuming the next day.

The shutdown has forced hundreds of Missouri businesses to close. Nearly 400,000 Missourians have filed for jobless benefits over the past five weeks.

Among the businesses Parson wants to get open again are nursing homes. Several nursing homes and assisted care facilities across the state have seen outbreaks. Among them is Frontier Health and Rehabilitation in St. Charles, where the 13th death was reported late Thursday — a woman in her 60s.

Parson said that at some point, nursing home residents need to reunite with their families.

“Those are real people in there that are family members and loved ones of somebody,” Parson said Thursday. “By all means, we’ve got to protect them, but at some point, we’re going to have to let the families go in there and see them.”

The financial squeeze of the outbreak has led a Kansas City hospital, Children’s Mercy, to furlough nearly 600 employees for up to two months starting Sunday, the Kansas City Star reported. Top executives will see pay cuts, ranging from 20 percent for vice presidents to 30 percent for CEO Paul Kempinski.

The virus has led to a significant drop in patients coming in for other ailments, as elective procedures were suspended and outpatient clinic visits limited last month to prepare for a surge in COVID-19, Kempinski said. That’s costing the hospital net revenue of about $1 million a day.

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