Missouri has its second case of coronavirus, the deadly disease causing a global pandemic.


Gov. Mike Parson scheduled a news conference Thursday evening in Springfield with Mayor Ken McClure and Springfield—Greene County Health Department Director Clay Goddard.


There were no other details available at press time. The first case, announced Saturday, involved a St. Louis County woman who had recently traveled to Italy.


Notice of the second case came at the end of a day when the University of Missouri was dealing with misinformation about students who were potentially exposed to the virus and state lawmakers were mulling how long to remain in session.


The state Senate took spring break a week early, while House leaders are keeping the lower chamber in session to pass appropriation bills.


MU announced Wednesday that it was suspending classes for the rest of the week and would transition to online instruction next week. The university hopes to resume on-campus coursework March 30, when students return from spring break.


Stephens College on Thursday announced it would halt classwork Monday and Tuesday and resume Wednesday on an online platform.


The incorrect information about possible exposure of MU students was included in a letter drafted for schools and other groups scheduled to visit the Capitol in the office of state Rep. Dan Houx, R-Warrensburg.


Houx wrote that, "an MU student, who was part of a much larger contingent, tested positive for COVID-19. This group of students was in the Missouri Capitol earlier this week."


The letter, which Houx said was a draft that was never sent, somehow started circulating and was tweeted by state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis.


The tweet has since been deleted, and Nasheed sent out, "False alarm, we are safe in the State Capitol."


"We are trying to figure out how it even got out because it was a draft," Houx said Thursday.


The letter has Houx’s signature, but that was automatically generated. The programming for drafting letters is being changed, Houx said.


"It was a complete miscommunication," he said. "There was no intent of ill will."


Houx said he intended to ask Nasheed how she obtained the draft.


The decision to shut down the Senate was announced in a tweet shortly before 9 p.m. Wednesday by Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia.


"The Missouri Senate will not be in session next week as we work to ensure the safety of our members and Capitol guests from the ongoing #COVID19 realities," Rowden wrote.


In dueling news conferences, the top House Democrat said Missouri is 'wildly behind' in preparing for the virus while the top House Republican said the state is on the right track.


House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, went first, calling for widespread emergency action to protect Missourians from a disease experts expect will infect large swaths of the American population.


"We need to be, as a state government, taking the roles of leaders," Quade said.


She said lawmakers could start by mandating paid sick leave at companies with more than 50 employees for the next six months, covering hospital visits for people without health insurance for the next month, and increasing funding for county public health departments.


Quade said the hospital coverage alone could help keep hundreds of thousands of Missourians who lack coverage from putting off treatment because they can't afford the bill.


And she said paid sick leave, long a progressive priority, is important now to keep people from spreading the virus.


"We have a lot of folks who need to pay their bills," she said, "and they will continue to go to work with symptoms and spread this."


She also said Parson should declare a state of emergency to open up money to help pay for the response. She then suggested state officials authorize the state health department to build temporary hospitals and quarantine centers if necessary and temporarily forbid evictions and utility service cutoffs.


She said that last part would help ensure lower-income people have a place to go and hot water to wash their hands if they can't go to work.


House Speaker Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, had an entirely different take on the situation.


He said he couldn't speak to Quade's recommendations because he hadn't seen them, and said his caucus, which controls the chamber, is locked in on passing the state budget earlier than usual.


"Right now, what we're focused on is doing our constitutional duty to pass a budget next week," he said. "There's a lot of concern around the state. We're trying to make sure the core functions of government continue to move."


In a later interview, Haahr added that additional action on the virus could be necessary at some point. But for now, he said, cities, hospitals and local health departments are handling things well.


He acknowledged ramped-up testing may yet reveal more cases but said it's too early to start making "dramatic policy changes" that Democrats have pushed long before the current situation.


"I'm sort of reserving judgment on things as everything plays out," he said.


Haahr also said lawmakers are "leading by example" by allowing legislative staff to work from home and said he hopes large businesses would consider doing the same.


The House will be in session next week to pass its version of the state budget early before joining the Senate on the Legislature's regularly scheduled spring break March 23-27.


So far, Missouri has only two cases of coronavirus. The germ of truth in Houx's draft letter is that there were some students potentially exposed to COVID-19 and those students were in the Capitol on Monday and Tuesday.


Five journalism students who attended the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting conference in New Orleans did spend time in the Capitol reporting. All the students and faculty who attended the conference are now in isolation because one person at the conference has tested "presumptively positive" for COVID-19.


"We have been very clear to note that the attendee who has tested presumptive positive is not a member of the contingent nor is that person related to MU in any way," Basi said.


In reaction to the travel ban to Europe announced Wednesday evening by President Donald Trump, MU is working to bring students currently abroad home, Basi said.


University-sponsored events that draw large crowds have been postponed or canceled, Basi said.


That includes the University Concert Series events scheduled for this month, which are postponed, and Show Me Mizzou Day, a university-wide open house set for April 18, which is canceled. The open house event is in its second year.


"We had several thousand people here last year and we were expecting a similar crowd this year," Basi said.


Elsewhere, Lincoln University announced it was extending its spring break through March 20. Washington University announced Wednesday that it would suspend in-person classes until at least April 30.


Saint Louis University said Tuesday that it would suspend most in-person classes next week while it evaluates what to do going forward. Maryville University also announced Tuesday that it was suspending on-campus classes until March 30 while evaluating its next steps. And Webster University said it was moving all classes online starting Monday through April 3.


Springfield is canceling a St. Patrick's Day parade that usually attracts a crowd of about 7,500 people amid concerns about the outbreak.


Austin Huguelet of the Springfield News Leader and the Associated Press contributed to this report.


rkeller@coulumbiatribune.com


573-815-1709