Combating the Coronavirus
The COVID-19 virus continues to spread throughout Missouri, and we now have more than 1,300 cases reported statewide, including dozens within the eight counties of the 21st Senatorial District. The State of Missouri and local officials continue to adapt to this rapidly changing public health emergency and enlist all Missourians to do their part by following social distancing guidelines. Please stay at home if possible – especially if you feel ill or show symptoms such as fever, cough or shortness of breath. Even if you don’t feel sick, you could be a carrier for the virus and unknowingly spread COVID-19 to someone else.
During the past week, the governor requested a federal major disaster declaration for the State of Missouri. The declaration will allow reimbursement for expenses related to the coronavirus outbreak. Also in recent days, the governor began mobilizing the Missouri National Guard. The Guard’s role is expected to involve transportation of personnel and supplies needed for coronavirus testing facilities and assistance in setting up testing sites. If required, the Guard could also be deployed to construct temporary medical facilities.
The governor continues to take action through the powers granted by his statewide emergency declaration. This week, he signed waivers to allow physicians and surgeons licensed in other states to practice in Missouri, either in person or via telehealth technology. He also temporarily suspended some rules to make it easier for local health care providers to get help through telehealth.
The Department of Public Safety is acquiring personal protection equipment (PPE) as it becomes available. To date, the State Emergency Management Agency has purchased more than 6.6 million surgical masks, 5.8 million gloves, 4.3 million N95 respirator masks and 900,000 face shields. Those PPE supplies are being distributed to health care facilities and first responders around the state.
COVID-19 testing continues to expand. Western Missouri Medical Center in Warrensburg recently opened a drive-up testing site. It is still necessary to have a doctor’s order to obtain testing, but the drive-up facility should streamline the process. If you believe you’ve been exposed to the COVID-19 virus and are exhibiting symptoms, please contact your primary care physician by telephone or call the state coronavirus hotline at 877-435-8411. On a related note, the State Public Health Laboratory is expediting testing for first responders. The lab will provide test results within 24 hours of receiving the specimen, a faster turn-around than most commercial labs.
Last week, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the president signed it into law. This $2 trillion stimulus package includes direct payments to individuals and help for small businesses. Nearly every American who earns less than $75,000 per year will receive a one-time $1,200 payment. Their children will each get $500. Most businesses that employ fewer than 500 people qualify for Paycheck Protection Program loans through the Small Business Administration (SBA). This program is different from the Economic Injury loans announced last week. Unlike those SBA loans, the new Paycheck Protection loans will be available through local banks. The key distinction is that these loans become forgivable grants if borrowers keep employees on the payroll during the COVID-19 shutdown. Businesses won’t have to repay the money if they don’t lay people off.
Also, the CARES Act extends unemployment insurance and increases payments to laid-off workers significantly. State unemployment insurance payments will more than double, with $600 per week coming from the federal government. For more information about direct payments to individuals through the CARES Act, please visit www.irs.gov/coronavirus. For information about unemployment benefits, go to www.labor.mo.gov/coronavirus. Contact your local bank for information on the new forgivable loans. For traditional Economic Injury Disaster loans, visit the www.sba.gov.
The Missouri Department of Agriculture reminds us that farm workers are considered essential employees. The department recommends that workers who must travel for agriculture-related jobs consider carrying a letter from their employer. Many regions of the country have enacted stay-at-home policies that restrict travel. A letter presenting the employee as a “critical infrastructure worker” could help avoid confusion and inconvenience. You can find a sample letter at www.agriculture.mo.gov/emergency/covid-19.
I believe the coronavirus situation could not come at a worse moment for the agriculture industry, which was already experiencing hard times due to eight consecutive years of down markets, a series of devastating weather events – from draughts to floods – and on-going tariff disputes with our nation’s largest Ag traders. Many of the levees damaged during the 2019 floods still need to be rebuilt and spring rains and Western snow melt threaten more floods this year. On top of everything else, I believe the current state of world oil markets does not bode well for Missouri’s soybean producers, who rely on ethanol sales to keep commodity prices sustainable. We’re all struggling in these times, but let’s keep farmers in our thoughts and prayers.
There’s a lot going on and the lesser things sometimes fall through the cracks, but I’d like to mention a few more items. First, the lieutenant governor has extended the nomination deadline for the Senior Service Awards. Nominations remain open until April 30. You can find more information at www.ltgov.mo.gov. Also, by now, you’ve received a notice in the mail that it’s time to fill out the U.S. Census. I encourage everyone to go to the web address on their postcard and fill out the Census, since the COVID-19 crisis will keep in-person canvassers from knocking on your door. Many federal programs and benefits are based on population so it’s critical that Missourians are counted. Missouri lost a seat in Congress after the 2010 Census, due to falling population relative to other states. We need to make sure we get our fair share. Please fill out your Census.
Finally, everyone needs to stay informed about the coronavirus and take steps to keep from spreading COVID-19 to vulnerable people. For more information, visit the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services at www.health.mo.gov or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov.
As always, I appreciate hearing your comments, opinions and concerns. Please feel free to contact me in Jefferson City at (573) 751-4302. You may also email me at email@example.com.