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Missouri governor declares 'COVID-19 crisis is over,' state stops treating virus as a pandemic

Gov. Mike Parson addresses the House chamber in January at the state Capitol in Jefferson City.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Gov. Mike Parson addresses the House chamber in January at the state Capitol in Jefferson City.

Gov. Mike Parson said on Wednesday that the coronavirus is here to stay, but the public health crisis in Missouri is over. The change means Missouri will stop providing daily reporting of COVID-19 infections, vaccinations and positivity rates, and end universal contact tracing.

Missouri will officially transition from treating COVID-19 as a public health crisis to treating it as endemic, much like the seasonal flu, Gov. Mike Parson announced Wednesday.

The planned shift, which was first reported by the Documenting COVID-19 project and The Independent in February, comes as the state is at the lowest level of COVID-19 spread since June.

Through Wednesday, the state has recorded 1.4 million total infections and 19,990 deaths.

“The COVID-19 crisis is over here in the State of Missouri,” Parson told reporters Wednesday.

The change will mean the end of daily reporting of COVID-19 infections, vaccinations and positivity rates, Parson said, as well as detailed county level case reporting. Universal contact tracing will be discontinued as well, though local jurisdictions will be encouraged to conduct case investigations with vulnerable populations as needed.

“This does not mean COVID is no longer present or future spikes and cases will not occur,” Parson said, later adding that while there will still be outbreaks in the future the threat of the virus has “significantly diminished.”

Wednesday’s report from the Department of Health and Senior Services shows that, over the past week, 2,949 cases were recorded by the state, an average of 421 per day, down 97% from the January peak.

From Dec. 21 through Feb. 10, the state reported at least 2,000 cases a day and often many times that. The highest single-day total was 20,116 on Jan. 15, and the highest 7-day average of reported cases was 12,813 per day on Jan. 21.

In all, the state reported 323,022 cases of coronavirus infection in January, more than 2.5 times the second-highest month for infections in November 2020. For three counties — Boone, Dunklin and Pulaski — more than half of all infections have been reported since Jan. 1.

Along with the highest infection rates, the 3,335 deaths during omicron wave in December, January and February was the second-deadliest period of the pandemic, behind only November 2020 through January 2021, with 6,175 deaths.

On Jan. 7, 89 people died, the ninth deadliest day of the pandemic. January, with 1,909 deaths, was the third-deadliest month overall, averaging a death every 23 minutes throughout the month.

“We want to be clear that the virus is here to stay,” Parson said, adding: “But Missourians have learned to live with COVID while living their normal lives.”

Paula Nickelson, acting director of the Department of Health and Senior Services, echoed Parson in saying that endemic does not mean the end of the virus.

“It refers to the constant presence of the disease within a population or geographic area,” she said, “just as influenza, HIV, tuberculosis and strep throat.”

The new variant that has resulted in spiking cases and lockdowns in other countries is present in Missouri, Nickelson said, and Missouri will work to protect its most vulnerable citizens. New outbreaks will occur, she said, but Missourians now have access to vaccines, testing and therapeutics.

“Some of you may question if we are moving too quickly or prematurely to an endemic phase,” she said. “The answer is no.”

This story was originally published in the Missouri Independent.

Jason Hancock has been writing about Missouri since 2011, most recently as lead political reporter for The Kansas City Star. He has spent nearly two decades covering politics and policy for news organizations across the Midwest, and has a track record of exposing government wrongdoing and holding elected officials accountable.
Rudi Keller covers the state budget, energy and the legislature for the Missouri Independent.
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