Missouri governor declares end to ‘COVID-19 crisis,’ state will treat virus as endemic

Gov. Mike Parson said the virus is here to stay, but the public health crisis in Missouri is over

By: and - March 30, 2022 3:52 pm

Gov. Mike Parson addresses the media on May 17, 2019 in Jefferson City (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images).

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 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.

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 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 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.”

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Jason Hancock
Jason Hancock

Jason Hancock has spent two decades covering politics and policy for news organizations across the Midwest, with most of that time focused on the Missouri statehouse as a reporter for The Kansas City Star. A three-time National Headliner Award winner, he helped launch The Missouri Independent in October 2020.

Rudi Keller
Rudi Keller

Rudi Keller covers the state budget and the legislature. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, he spent 22 of his 32 years in journalism covering Missouri government and politics for the Columbia Daily Tribune, where he won awards for spot news and investigative reporting.