JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri Governor Mike Parson announced Thursday that he has extended Missouri’s State of Emergency through March 31, 2021.

The decision was made due to the increasing number of COVID-19 infections and the growing concern amongst hospital staff in regards to bed space and availability throughout Missouri.

“The truth of the matter is the hospital capacity is becoming a problem of what we can do in the state of Missouri, and we're going to have to do everything we can to curve, that issue,” Parson said.

The state of emergency was first enacted on March 13, 2020. It waives 450 state regulations and allows flexibility in mobilizing the national guard and using millions of dollars in federal aid, the governor's office said. 

According to the latest White House Coronavirus Task Force report, Missouri's new COVID-19 cases have increased by 41% in the last week. According to the data, 97% of Missouri counties have a high community transmission rate. Despite its findings, Parson says local governments are able to determine what mandates they will enact. 

“We do believe that masks is a factor in how we curve this virus but again I think that’s much more on the local levels that need to decide what’s best for their communities and I firmly believe people should have a voice in that decision,” Parson said.

Missouri is one of 16 states to not implement a statewide mask mandate. The governor said he has always encouraged Missouri residents to wear masks, but sees it as a "personal responsibility."

Some Missouri residents feel that a statewide mask mandate should be enacted though the State of Emergency has been extended.

“I wish we could have a mask ordinance actually in place. Even though it is really up to each individual to care about their community it’s up to all of us to keep people from getting sick and it’s not hard to wear a mask,” Ashland resident Joan Seidel-Petralia said.

It has been stated by the CDC that older adults have a higher risk for severe illness after contracting COVID-19.

“I’m in that group that if I did get sick it could be more difficult for me to get well and I would just like to stop the transmission of a communicable disease,” Seidel-Petralia said. 

Gov. Parson also said he will not regulate gatherings or issue a statewide mask mandate to curve rising COVID-19 cases as the holiday season approaches.

“I am not going to mandate who goes through the front door of your home, that is not our job in the state government,” he said in his weekly briefing Thursday morning.

The state's health director, Dr. Randall Williams, also encouraged Thanksgiving celebrations to be limited.

“You need to be thoughtful about Thanksgiving. I don’t want anyone to look back at this holiday with regret,” he said.

Gov. Parson added that staffing at medical facilities is one of the state's largest concerns at the moment.

He said he is considering a number of options to help alleviate the pressure, including possibly utilizing military personnel or bringing in healthcare workers from other states to fill the gap. NBC News reports a healthcare worker shortage affects the majority of hospitals nationwide.

The governor also said his administration will issue a public health warning to local health directors, highlighting the cases per capita with accompanying recommendations.

Similar data is available in a report delivered to all 50 governors each week from the White House COVID-19 Task Force. Missouri does not make the report public, although some information is passed on to local health officials.

It was also announced during the briefing that Missouri has expanded its list of suitable vaccine housing sites from five to 10. 

“We have 10 sites now in Missouri equipped to handle the cold storage of 94 degrees below zero and following closely behind that would be the Monderna which is four degrees below that, which is a regular freezer,” Williams said.

Missouri residents will have to go to those sites to receive the vaccine once it becomes widely available next spring. The Moderna vaccine will be more widely available across the state, Williams said.

The governor said he would likely not restrict any activities for Missouri residents that do not receive the vaccine.

“I’m not going to mandate anyone to take a vaccine,” he said. “We will not punish anyone if they do not want to take the vaccine. That is not who we are as Americans."

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