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Missouri ramping up testing of workers and residents in state-run facilities

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St. Louis Veterans Home

Everett Bratcher (left) a Tuskegee Airmen pilot veteran, and Gary Deruchia, a Navy fire fighter veteran, relax in the lobby area of the Missouri Veterans Home - St. Louis on Thursday, July 10, 2014, in Bellefontaine Neighbors. Bratcher has been a resident of the home for eight years, and Deruchia for two years. Photo by Huy Mach, hmach@post-dispatch.com

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri is poised to ramp up testing of workers and residents at state-run facilities, whether or not they show signs of having COVID-19.

Under an emergency contract signed Tuesday, a Columbia firm will provide testing and results within 24 hours for prison guards and other front-line state workers, as well as residents in mental facilities, veterans nursing homes and institutions for developmentally disabled residents.

If a test comes back positive, the person will be quarantined to ensure the virus doesn’t spread in the state’s large, potentially vulnerable institutions.

“If they test negative, we can let them go back to work and thereby mitigate the risk of a potential staffing shortage,” said Missouri Department of Corrections spokeswoman Karen Pojmann.

The boost in testing comes as advocates for people in custody or in state-run facilities have pressed for either early release or more stringent testing because of the possibility that a fast-spreading virus could decimate a facility.

Nursing homes have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic.

Under the contract, PTC Laboratories of Columbia will be paid $125 per test through Oct. 13. The total price tag for testing could cost taxpayers millions of dollars depending on how extensively the tests are used.

If PTC fails to get results to the state within 96 hours it will not be paid, the contract notes.

At the Department of Corrections, the state contractor that provides health care to inmates is conducting tests.

As of Tuesday, Corizon Health had tested 52 of the state’s 26,000 inmates, the department told the Post-Dispatch.

An employee at the Southeast Correctional Center in Charleston tested positive for the respiratory disease and is in quarantine. He was last in the facility on April 7, according to Department of Corrections Director Anne Precythe in an announcement issued Saturday.

Six other staff members tested positive while working in nonprison jobs or while on unrelated leave from work, she said.

One inmate of the Western Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in St. Joseph died April 2. He had been in isolation for two weeks before being moved to a Kansas City hospital on March 19.

The inmate had no direct contact with offenders or staff during the 14-day period preceding his positive test, the department said.

“No offenders currently inside a Missouri state prison have tested positive for COVID-19,” Pojmann said.

At a youth home in Waverly, employees and residents tested positive for COVID-19 in March.

The residents stayed in the facility in quarantine while staff quarantined at home.

Also in March, a resident of the veterans nursing home in Bellefontaine Neighbors tested positive for the virus.

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