JEFFERSON CITY — At a time when state capitols are on high alert for possible domestic terror attacks, Missouri’s top law enforcement official is working from home after she tested positive for COVID-19.
Department of Public Safety Director Sandra Karsten experienced a slight cough earlier this week and received a positive rapid test result. She has not received results of a typically more accurate PCR test, said agency spokesman Mike O’Connell.
Karsten was in the Missouri Capitol multiple times this week meeting with legislative staff and other officials to discuss safety precautions related to armed protests anticipated at state capitols ahead of Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration.
Those discussions included ramping up the number of police in the building, limiting available entrances and exits and plotting out escape routes for lawmakers and staff if the building comes under siege.
Her presence in the building came the same week House leaders announced they were canceling next week’s session because of the spread of the coronavirus among members.
That decision removes at least 163 lawmakers from the building on Wednesday when Biden is sworn in. But the Senate is planning to stay in session despite the potential for violent acts against government facilities and the ongoing spread of the potentially deadly virus.
O’Connell said Karsten took precautions while she was in the crowded building.
“Director Karsten strictly observes recommended COVID-19 guidelines, so her positive test demonstrates that even wearing a mask, social distancing and observing the other recommended precautions, COVID-19 can be transmitted,” he said.
He added that the director’s oversight of the department’s day-to-day operations has not been affected.
Officials who met with Karsten, including top administrators in the House and Senate, have been informed of her test results, O’Connell said.
Gov. Mike Parson appointed Karsten director in August 2018. She had previously served as chief of the Missouri Highway Patrol, working her way through the ranks of the police force.
The department has more than 15,000 employees tasked with enhancing the safety and security of Missouri residents and visitors.
The agency oversees the Missouri National Guard, the highway patrol, the Capitol Police Department and the state emergency management agency, among others.
In response to the violent mob attacking the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., state officials have deployed extra police officers to Missouri’s Capitol, including highway patrol and state park rangers.
Agents with the Department of Conservation also could be used for security purposes if a threat surfaces.
COVID-19, meanwhile, has hit officials in all sectors of state government.
Parson tested positive in September, but did not have any significant symptoms. He put his campaign on hold and quarantined in the Governor’s Mansion.
Senate President Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, is among a number of lawmakers who have tested positive in the last year.