JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMIZ)
Gov. Mike Parson said Thursday that the state will no longer be under a COVID-19 health order starting Tuesday, citing the "devastating" effect of the disease on the economy.
Parson, speaking at his regular COVID-19 briefing in the Missouri Capitol, said the state needs to balance the health of residents with the progress made in slowing down the coronavirus and the need to stimulate the economy.
Watch a replay of the briefing in the player below
The current statewide reopening order is set to expire Monday and will be replaced by no order under "Phase 2" of the state reopening plan, Parson said. The state has met its goals in what Parson has called the "four pillars" of testing, personal protective equipment, hospital capacity and availability of local data.
"We are much better prepared to deal with COVID-19 going forward," Parson said. "Which is why we are confident that Missouri is ready to take the next step forward."
The state has reported 15,390 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began -- about 5.8 percent of those tested. The number of cases increased by more than 200 for the second straight day Thursday and is up 6.3 percent over the past seven days, the state reported.
The state reports 860 deaths from COVID-19, with only 24 of those in people less than 50 years old.
The Missouri Hospital Association reported 548 COVID-19 patients hospitalized as of Thursday. Hospitalizations have fallen 43 percent statewide since their peak, Parson said.
"It is truly incredible to think of how far Missouri has come since March," Parson said. "At that time, no one knew what to expect. There was a lot of uncertainty, worry and concerns."
The state has ramped up testing by about 220 percent, Parson said. Much of that testing has happened at community sampling events open to anyone.
The lack of a statewide order will not override local orders, Parson said. Counties such as Boone with their own, more stringent orders will be allowed to keep those orders in place, he said.
Rob Dixon, director of the Department of Economic Development, said signs are showing improvement in the economy. However, further easing of rules which currently include restrictions on capacity for retail businesses is needed to keep the progress going, he said.
Dixon said 82 percent of employers his department surveyed have screenings and other health measures in place and more than 70 percent of those surveyed have a plan in place in case of the outbreak.
Companies are also starting to welcome back furloughed workers, he said, with unemployment claims falling from about 440,000 at their peak to 350,000.
Statewide health orders had barred the public from entering nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Parson said the state will publish guidance for those facilities before the order lifts Tuesday.
Parson also extended several emergency declarations until Dec. 30, saying those orders will continue to be needed for recovery from COVID-19. Those orders ease some state regulations, allow for the activation of the Missouri National Guard, waive requirements for notary public business to happen in person and waive restrictions on restaurants and bars selling unprepared foods.
Parson warned Missourians should still be aware of the virus.
"The virus is still out there and it is still important for everyone to observe social distancing," Parson said.
Parson said the Missouri State Fair will not be canceled because of COVID-19 but the event will be planned differently because of the virus.
Meeting with activists
Parson said he met Thursday with activists from Kansas City, St. Louis and Columbia about police reform after protests spurred by the death of George Floyd.
Thursday's conference was an initial meeting for the parties to get to know each other, Parson said, and more meetings will take place to get into policy specifics.
"There are some issues that I want to say we’re not going to agree on ... it was a process of starting a conversation to see what we can do and can’t do," Parson said.
Among those issues is defunding police, Parson said in response to a question from a reporter.