More than two years after Missouri had its first documented coronavirus case, Gov. Mike Parson declared on Wednesday the COVID-19 crisis in the state is over.
“Thanks to our balanced approach and common sense, we believe the need for COVID-19 crisis response has come to an end,” Parson said.
Beginning Friday, the state will shift from tackling the coronavirus as a pandemic to an endemic, which is how the state currently handles influenza and other viruses, including HIV and tuberculosis.
By ending the state’s crisis response to COVID-19, policy changes are to follow. The state is discontinuing universal contact tracing as well as individual case investigations.
“We will base response and mitigation strategies on regional and community-level trends while focusing less on individual case-based data,” Parson said.
Another change is how coronavirus cases in Missouri will be reported by the state. Currently, the Department of Health and Senior Services updates its COVID-19 dashboard daily, including case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths. Under the new strategy, the numbers will be updated each Friday.
As to why the state is discontinuing its daily updates, Paula Nickelson, acting director of the Department of Health and Senior Services, said the science doesn’t support that frequency during an endemic phase.
“The changes that you see on a regional basis will not happen that quickly, and so there’s really not that need for that level,” Nickelson said.
The announcement came as the Department of Health reported 1,068 new confirmed cases in Missouri in the past seven days. Additionally, the state logged three confirmed deaths in the past week.
The state will emphasize tracking the severity of COVID-19 through hospital surveillance.
Both Parson and Nickelson said while the state is shifting to this new response, that does not mean the virus is no longer in Missouri, and both said there would likely be new surges and variants of COVID-19.
“By using common sense and taking personal responsibility, we continue to win against COVID-19,” Parson said.
Missouri never implemented a statewide mask mandate, even during the peak of the pandemic, instead allowing that decision to be made on a local basis.
Even with the possibility of surges and the state addressing new cases, Nickelson said the state would not advocate for mask or vaccine mandates, nor would it encourage lockdowns.
“We will provide consultation to the local jurisdictions regarding mitigation strategies, which may be useful given the level of severity of the disease in their respective regions,” Nickelson said.
Despite the emphasis on local response, Parson said the state would assist in case of outbreaks in nursing homes, schools and similar situations.
“It’s not like we’re gonna say, ‘Hey, you deal with it.’ The health department will be there to help in every step of the way,” Parson said.
As to how this shift will impact the state’s hospitals, Parson said the state has communicated with local health departments as well as hospitals on the state’s new plan.
“Everybody knows this day was coming. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody,” Parson said.
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