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Missouri is ‘high performer’ in public health emergency preparedness

Posted on Tuesday, February 18, 2020 at 12:33 pm

Missouri is among states rated as high performers in public health emergency preparedness measures by a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that advocates for optimal health for people and communities through prevention of illness and injuries.

The Trust for America’s Health report “Ready or Not: Protecting the Public’s Health from Diseases, Disasters, and Bioterrorism 2020” released on Feb. 5 lists Missouri among 25 states that received a rank of “high” while the remaining states are nearly evenly split between medium and low rankings.

This report was released as states across the nation are responding to the latest outbreak — the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) has been actively engaging many partners throughout the state (hospitals, providers, colleges, local public health departments, etc.) as additional guidance is continually received from federal partners.

“While we have had no confirmed cases in Missouri to date, we are continuously monitoring and preparing should this status change for our state,” said Dr. Randall Williams, director of DHSS.

Williams also serves as the national chairman of the Public Health Preparedness Policy Committee for ASTHO, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

DHSS is home to the Missouri State Public Health Laboratory (MSPHL) which continues its mission to provide emergency response as it begins the verification process this week for the 2019-nCoV testing. As the need for additional testing facilities within the United States increases, facilities such as the MSPHL will “prove invaluable,” according to Williams, by providing real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (rRT-PCR) tests to rapidly identify whether or not a person has 2019-nCoV. The test can provide same-day results from when a specimen is received at the laboratory.

“Whether the unveiling public health emergency has been West Nile Virus in 1999, Anthrax in 2001, SARS in 2003, H1N1 in 2009, Ebola in 2013 and now with 2019-nCoV, the MSPHL stands ready with latest technology to test for these rapidly evolving outbreaks and with dedicated staff working through the end of the emergency,” said Bill Whitmar, director of the MSPHL.

The Trust for America’s Health report also notes that public health emergencies of the past year — outbreaks of measles, hepatitis A and other vaccine preventable diseases, record heat, foodborne illness, devastating hurricanes, the mysterious lung disease linked to vaping, wildfires and months of cascading flooding along the Missouri, Mississippi and the Arkansas rivers — all reinforce the need for every jurisdiction to be vigilant about preparing for emergencies in order to safeguard the public’s health.