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COVID-19 Was In Missouri A Month Before The First Case Was Reported, According To Updated Data

Julie Denesha

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson announced the first positive test of COVID-19 in the state on March 7.

Newly updated data, however, show that there may have been active cases more than a month earlier.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services COVID-19 dashboard, which was updated on Saturday, now shows the first COVID-19 case on February 2 and 9 additional cases on subsequent days that month.

At a press conference on Tuesday, health department director Dr. Randall Williams explained that these are cases that were back-entered into the data based on when someone who tested positive for the virus said they first experienced symptoms.

He expressed skepticism about some of the cases, because testing did not start in significant numbers in Missouri until mid-March, and it’s unlikely that symptoms would’ve continued for weeks.

“I would argue that somebody who tested positive on March the 12th and says they were symptomatic for six weeks — that probably wasn’t COVID-19,” Williams said.

Williams said he did not know when the health department became aware of February cases.

When asked whether municipalities and local health departments were informed about these cases when they were making decisions about large public events, he said the information likely wouldn’t have made a difference.

“I don’t know that that would significantly affect their decisions,” Williams said.

However, Williams acknowledged that there were likely undetected COVID-19 infections in Missouri before the first case, which was travel-related, was discovered in March.

“I think we’ve learned from Washington state that’s probably true,” Williams said. “I think all of us would understand there may have been a patient that came in from Germany or wherever who was mildly symptomatic or asymptomatic.”

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify a question that Dr. Williams was asked regarding the release of the case data.

Copyright 2020 KCUR 89.3

Alex Smith began working in radio as an intern at the National Association of Farm Broadcasters. A few years and a couple of radio jobs later, he became the assistant producer of KCUR's magazine show, KC Currents. In January 2014 he became KCUR's health reporter.