JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri prisons are closing to visitors for the next 30 days to shield workers and inmates from the coronavirus outbreak.


In a statement Thursday, the department said no cases have been diagnosed within the system.


But it said the confined nature of prisons, where people are in close contact with one another, made it necessary to suspend visits.


"While we recognize that visiting is an essential part of rehabilitation, the department must protect the health and wellness of all who live in, work in and visit state prisons," the statement said.


Attorneys will still be able to visit and can schedule through administrators at each facility.


That logic tracks with general concern about the virus in confined spaces like cruise ships and nursing homes.


A World Health Organization report on initial findings in China, the center of the global outbreak, noted there were reports of transmission at three prisons there as well as in hospitals and a long-term living facility.


"The close proximity and contact among people in these settings and the potential for environmental contamination are important factors which could amplify transmission," the report reads.


Missouri House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, told reporters Thursday that officials should go further and consider furloughing nonviolent offenders. It's not clear anything like that is under serious consideration at this point.


When asked if the department had plans to take further action aside from suspending visits, spokeswoman Karen Pojmann wrote in an email that the department is "well prepared for an outbreak of a communicable disease."


She added that the department has an established plan in place and linked to the state health department's pandemic influenza response plan.


State health director Randall Williams has told legislators in recent hearings that that plan is guiding the state's preparations and response to the novel coronavirus.


Austin Huguelet is the News-Leader's politics reporter. Got something he should know? Call him at 417-403-8096 or email him at ahuguelet@news-leader.com.