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A year ago Saturday, Missouri had its first case of COVID-19.

Since that time, like every other state in the nation, Missouri has sunk into the depths of illness and loss and begun its climb out.

Gov. Mike Parson said Thursday during his weekly COVID-19 update that coronavirus activity in Missouri has declined for the seventh consecutive week.

The state's seven-day positivity rate is down to 4.5 percent. Missouri's average daily cases remain second-lowest in the United States, trailing only Hawaii.

COVID-19 hospitalizations fell below 1,000 for the first time since September, Parson said.

On Feb. 28, he explained, Missouri hospitals reported 989 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, which was down 64 percent from the first week of January.

Health officials believe the numbers will continue to improve as more and more Missourians receive vaccinations, he said.

The one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine was approved this past Saturday.

"We expect to receive approximately 50,000 doses this week," Parson said.

Of those doses, 5,000 are to be distributed to targeted vaccination sites in St. Louis and Kansas City. Ten thousand of the doses are to go to regional mass vaccination events.

The remaining 35,000 doses are to be distributed to local providers across the state to allow them to determine the most appropriate use for the single-dose options within their communities, Parson said.

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With vaccine supply increasing and more people becoming eligible, the state will add a "delivery channel" to help with accessibility.

Beginning next week, 15 percent of Missouri's weekly vaccine allocation is to be distributed to selected pharmacies across the state, Parson said. Missouri health officials have identified 161 pharmacies in 84 counties to deliver the vaccines. They were selected, he said, based on ability, location and population.

Among those listed is Whaley's Southwest Pharmacy, 1431 Southwest Blvd. in Jefferson City. (While the state listed all three Whaley's locations in Jefferson City, only the Whaley's Southwest Boulevard location is staffed to deliver the vaccines, pharmacy officials told the News Tribune on Friday.)

Whaley's has not been notified about when it will receive the vaccinations nor how many it will receive, a pharmacy official said.

State health officials are identifying even more pharmacies that can target vulnerable populations and counties that are not yet represented, Parson said.

"We do recognize that some Missourians are less interested in receiving a vaccine than others," Parson said. "Vaccine interest is often highest in urban populations. So starting next week, we will begin transitioning mass vaccination teams to accommodate more events in Region A, which is the Kansas City region, and Region C, which is the St. Louis region."

Eventually, two teams will be operational in Region A, and three teams in Region C, he said.

Mass and targeted events will begin using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as supplies allow.

In explaining how Missouri came to have the second-lowest rate of daily cases, Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Director Dr. Randall Williams said it hasn't done a lot that was different from other states.

There is an aspect of the pandemic that may fluctuate with seasonality — numbers are going down across the country. There is a "limited herd immunity" because some components of the state's population (about 1 million people) have had the disease. Vaccinations are helping.

"We already see that in our hospitals, where they have much less absenteeism from work," Williams said. "At the end of the day, all those things I've said would probably be true for every state in the country."

What's left, he said, is Missouri's balanced approach to the pandemic.

And Missourians, Williams said, heeded state leaders' requests to maintain proper hygiene, practice social distancing, stay home from work and other steps.

This article was updated at 2:45 p.m. March 5, 2021, to clarify information about Whaley's Pharmacy.

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