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Missouri Health Director Says Chance Of Catching Coronavirus Reaches All-Time High

Dr. Randall Williams, Missouri's public health director, said chances of catching the coronavirus is now the highest its ever been in the state.
Jaclyn Driscoll
St. Louis Public Radio
Dr. Randall Williams, the state's public health director, said the chance of catching the coronavirus is now the highest it's ever been in Missouri.

Missouri’s public health director said Thursday that an individual’s chance of catching COVID-19 is the highest it’s been since the start of the pandemic.

“Even though, here on November 19, we have more resources and more things in the pipeline that give us great hope, at this very moment in time your risk of getting COVID-19 is at the highest it’s been because of community transmission and cold weather, and to some extent, COVID-19 fatigue,” Dr. Randall Williams said at Gov. Mike Parson’s weekly press briefing.

In an urgent and somber tone, Parson said the virus is spreading at a record pace.

“If you look back 30 days ago with statistics of COVID-19 in the state of Missouri, the first eight months of COVID-19, all the cases combined, there was more cases in October than there was in those first eight months,” Parson said. “The first 15 days of November is more than the numbers of the full month of October.”

Parson is extending the state of emergency until March 2021 but will not implement any statewide restrictions or a mask mandate. He said his office will provide additional information for counties throughout the state and ask them to take action locally to help prevent the spread of the virus.

“We will also be coming out with a set of guidance today that will be a public health warning for the entire state of Missouri. We will be giving guidance to the counties and mayors across the state of Missouri … we’re going to encourage them to take some sort of action.”

Parson, again, is leaving it up to local leaders to impose a mask mandate, but he said the guidance will stress the importance of wearing them.

“As many people out there would like to say it’s government’s responsibility, it’s not,” Parson said. “It’s our responsibility as citizens of this great state to take it upon ourselves to do the right thing.”

Over the past week, Missouri averaged more than 5,000 cases per day, an increase of 27% from the previous week. According to the state health department dashboard, the state is averaging 10 deaths per day. The St. Louis metro averaged about 2,430 new cases, an increase of 29%, and is averaging 13 deaths per day.

Parson warned Missourians about family gatherings for the holidays; he said his Thanksgiving celebration will be much smaller than usual and encouraged others to do the same. Parson also said hospital capacity is “becoming a problem.” He said “everything is on the table” to try to get health systems the support they need.

“Staffing is the major issue, not so much bed space, but the reality of having people to work in those hospitals,” Parson said. “We’re looking at all options that we can at the state level, whether that’s the use of the military, some of their expertise, whether that’s going to other states to bring in health care workers.”

Currently there are just under 2,500 Missourians hospitalized for the virus, with about 600 in intensive care units and 300 on ventilators.

Parson said citizens must practice social distancing, wear a mask and wash hands to help with this strain on health systems. But, consistent with his message since March, he said it’s about personal responsibility, not government mandates.

“Government is not going to mandate you to do everything in your lives, nor do I want government to mandate,” he said. “You don’t need that right now. We just need to take it upon ourselves to make tough decisions, to make wise decisions and slow the spread.

"I totally understand everybody’s virus fatigue. I get it. Everybody wants so bad to go back to ‘a normal life.’ But we’re not going to be able to do that.”

Parson admitted even after the state begins distributing the vaccine, which could be as soon as December, Missourians will still need to take extra precautions to stay healthy.

Williams said the distribution of the vaccine will be vitally important for health care workers, since they are in a prioritized group.

“One of the kindest things we can do for them is to get them vaccinated,” Williams said.

The state has added five facilities that will be able to distribute and properly store the vaccine, making 10 total. Those locations have not been publicly released.

Jaclyn is the Jefferson City statehouse reporter for St. Louis Public Radio.