Missouri’s first confirmed case of coronavirus is in St. Louis County, but the actions of the patient’s family members in ignoring an order to self-quarantine is getting more attention than the virus’ actual arrival in St. Louis.
Despite being instructed to remain in self-quarantine by St. Louis County health officials, the father and sister of the 20-year-old college student who tested “presumptive positive” for Missouri’s first case of COVID-19 attended a high-school father-daughter dance at a hotel in Clayton.
Missouri joined a list of 36 states, including the District of Columbia, with cases of the new respiratory illness when a woman from Ladue tested positive for the coronavirus after returning home from a study abroad trip in Italy last week. Italy has seen widespread cases of the virus in the largest outbreak outside of China, where it started.
“Missouri tested its first case of COVID-19 presumptive positive at the Missouri Public Health Laboratory… The case is travel related,” said Gov. Mike Parson at press conference in Clayton Saturday alongside County Executive Sam Page.
According to Page, the woman, who attends an out-of-state college, called the public health department’s coronavirus hotline (314-615-2660, or 314-842-0062 for languages other than English) last Thursday and was instructed to come in for testing the next day at Mercy Hospital in Creve Coeur after explaining her symptoms and where she had returned from.
The woman was tested at the hospital Friday, with hospital staff taking extra precautions to ensure that they did not risk infecting themselves and other patients. The test was then sent to the Missouri State Health Public Laboratory, which confirmed a presumptive positive for the test Saturday. The test will then be sent to the federal Centers for Disease Control for confirmation.
At the time of the positive test, officials thought the family was staying at home in West County.
“The student and her parents have assured us they have not left their home since they became symptomatic a few days ago, except for the trip to the hospital to be tested. The parents are both asymptomatic, but they’re being monitored at home and will be self-quarantined,” said Page at Saturday’s press conference. “Our health department will now conduct an epidemiological workup so that every one the student may have encountered… can be investigated. We’ll contact everyone she encountered to see if they were symptomatic and to encourage further testing if it’s appropriate.”
However, offivisls said Sunday that the woman’s father and her younger sister, who is a freshman at Villa Duschesne, a Catholic all-girls school located in Frontenac, had broken self-quarantine to attend a father-daughter dance Saturday night at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Clayton.
“We relied on common sense and goodwill toward our community to self-quarantine… The way this family has reacted to this situation is really a tale of two reactions. It is a study of how people should and should not react,” said Page at a press conference Sunday afternoon after the county learned that the infected woman’s father and sister had broken self-quarantine. “From everything we can gather, the patient conducted herself responsibly and maturely and she is to be commended… Second, the father did not act consistently with the health department’s instructions. Instead last night he decided to take his other daughter to a school function.”
Page said that county health directors informed the father Sunday that they must remain in their home or else be faced with a formal quarantine that would require his family to stay in their home by force of law.
Page acknowledged that there had not yet been a court-ordered imposed quarantine in the country but that the option was available if need be.
“At this point in time, we’re depending on our community to use good judgment, to act in good faith, to act responsibly and if you’re around anyone who has symptoms, who has traveled to an area at risk, have symptoms…. We expect you to self-quarantine and contact us (the county) immediately.”
According to a news release sent out by Villa Duchesne and Oak Hill School Sunday, the patient’s father and sister attended the dance prior to learning about the patient’s positive test result and left immediately after. County health officials had instructed them to stay in self-quarantine since the Thursday before the dance.
The press release also stated that Villa Duchesne and Oak Hill School would be closed Monday as school administrators considered next steps – which came in the form of canceling classes for the rest of the week to allow for a hospital-grade cleaning of the campus.
“We are focused on the health and safety of our students, faculty, staff and their families. We want to take the most cautious approach, and we have decided to close school for the rest of this week to monitor the situation,” a status on Villa Duschesne’s Facebook page read. “School buildings will be sanitized and ready for students to return on March 23 after our spring break.”
Amtrak also took similar measures Monday, after learning that the St. Louis patient had returned to St. Louis via Amtrak train 303 from Chicago after flying into O’Hare International Airport and spending a couple days in the city.
According to a press release from Amtrak, the company is notifying passengers and employees who may have been on the same train as the patient, in addition to taking the train out of service for comprehensive cleaning and disinfection. The Chicago and St. Louis stations will also be thoroughly disinfected, the press release said.
Right now testing is only available in the United States for individuals who are symptomatic.
According to Monday’s coronavirus situation report from the World Health Organization, there are 109,577 confirmed cases worldwide and 3,809 deaths. Global risk assessment remains very high.
The county Department of Public Health is continually updating its website and set up a coronavirus hotline at 314-615-2260. Individuals who are experiencing symptoms are encouraged to stay home and contact the hotline for the proper procedure and next steps to take to minimize exposing others to the virus.