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.
That shift will be complete on April 1, Parson said.
The change, 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 since the pandemic began.
“The COVID-19 crisis is over here in the state of Missouri,” Parson said 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 although there would still be outbreaks in the future the threat of the virus had “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.
But the state is not far removed from the last wave caused by the Omicron variant.
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 the 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, the state reported 89 COVID deaths, 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 did 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 article by Jason Hancock is published by permission of The Missouri Independent.