Parson lifts statewide COVID-19 restrictions, leaving rules to local officials
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson will let his statewide social distancing order lapse Tuesday, leaving it to local governments to impose limits on public life amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Parson announced the move in a news conference Thursday, casting it as a natural next step forward with testing capacity improving and hospitalizations declining even with more people out and about.
"Now is the time to begin repairing our economy and getting Missouri citizens back on their feet and back to work," Parson said.
The decision does not affect regulations still in place in Springfield and other cities and counties across the state.
But in other areas without their own orders, including several neighboring counties, the decision means social distancing requirements for restaurants and retailers will end and people will no longer be legally required to stay 6 feet apart from non-family members in public.
Prohibitions on visiting long-term facilities like nursing homes will also be lifted.
Parson's move comes as cases are on the rise in Missouri and 20 other states, according to data compiled by The New York Times.
But state officials have pointed out it also comes as more people are being tested than before. That has helped push down the percentage of positive tests overall, which some use as a proxy for the status of an epidemic, with lower rates better than higher rates.
That increase in testing follows a push for across-the-board screening at more than 100 long-term care facilities, random sampling at state facilities like veterans homes and prisons and community sampling in 11 counties.
Of more than 13,000 employees and residents at the long-term care facilities with known cases, for example, 259 tested positive, a rate of around 2 percent.
Community testing events here and in ten other counties found 107 positives out of 11,000, a rate of less than one percent.
Overall, roughly 6 percent of those tested for an active infection in Missouri have come up positive.
State Medicaid director Todd Richardson, who has been helping with the effort to ramp up testing, said Tuesday those were encouraging numbers.
“The overall cases were lower than we expected in many instances,” he said, “and we are containing outbreaks where they might otherwise have been much more severe.”
The number of patients hospitalized for the virus has also been trending downward for the last month, according to data compiled by the Missouri Hospital Association.
A new state model suggests it is likely that hospitalization rates in the greater St. Louis and Kansas City areas will continue to drop through June, too. It also suggests similar results for a large group of counties in mid-Missouri centered on Columbia and Jefferson City.
The same model suggests hospitalizations will likely increase in southern Missouri this month, though.
That state model also provided some of the first estimates on the effect of social distancing and stay-home orders. In nearly every region of the state, the virus’s “pre-intervention” reproductive rate was more than twice the rate it was Wednesday.
Despite those improvements, Parson urged Missourians continue taking the virus seriously even without government restrictions.
"This virus is still out there," he said.
Dr. James Blaine, a longtime local physician, had the same feeling in an interview this week.
“I don’t think we’re out of this by a long shot until we get a vaccine,” he said. “And that’s going to be months and months.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, delivered a similar message to a biotech executives earlier this week.
“In a period of four months, it has devastated the whole world,” he said, according to the New York Times. “And it isn’t over yet.”
Austin Huguelet is the News-Leader's politics reporter. Got something he should know? Have a question? Call him at 417-403-8096 or email him at email@example.com. You can also support local journalism atNews-Leader.com/subscribe.
This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: Parson lifts statewide COVID-19 restrictions, leaving rules to local officials