Missouri's statewide public health restrictions for COVID-19 lifted last week, but as cases have spiked in the southwestern corner of the state, the governor and state public health director said Tuesday they were not concerned the spike is part of a larger outbreak.
"This is not a surge or second wave," Gov. Mike Parson said Tuesday of the outbreak in Barry, Jasper, McDonald and Newton counties, on borders with Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma.
Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Department of Health and Senior Services, said three-quarters of the new cases in Missouri over the weekend were in the southwestern part of the state.
Williams added, however, that many of the people who have been infected are asymptomatic. Parson also said the vast majority of the new cases are people who are not ill enough to be hospitalized.
The state is working to "box-in" the outbreak in southwestern Missouri, using testing to identify the scope of the outbreak in an effort to contain it before it spreads any further.
According to a DHSS news release Tuesday, "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will also be deploying a team to the area this week to assist state and local health authorities with the epidemiological investigation. This investigation will determine risk factors for the COVID-19 spread in the Missouri counties bordering Arkansas where the outbreak has been ongoing, evaluate the role of meat and poultry plant outbreaks in the community spread of infection, estimate prevalence and determine risk factors for COVID-19 spread in the pediatric population, and develop a community mitigation plan for the COVID-19 outbreak in those counties."
Without statewide restrictions in place, Missouri is relying on its residents to choose to social distance, wear masks and take other precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 — as well as precautions taken by employers.
Williams said it would be a good idea to expand the reach of public health information campaigns.
He credited Missourians with taking precautions to allow the state to open up, as it did June 16, though he added, "I think anything that we could do to be more intentional about that is a great idea."
DHSS has published a dozen or so COVID-19-related videos since early March that have been geared toward the general public, based on what's available on the department's YouTube channel, youtube.com/user/MODHSS.
Most of those videos were published in March and April, though a June 5 video does address "Leaving Quarantine Tips," as the video is titled.
"As we reopen Missouri and begin to leave quarantine, it is still important to be mindful of those around us, in order to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus," whether that be while attending events, going shopping or enjoying the warm weather, the video advises.
The video also advises to practice good handwashing and cleaning, stay home when sick and maintain social distancing, and, "If you're unable to maintain a safe distance from others, wear a mask."
Much of DHSS' other recent content on its social media platforms has been about the availability of community testing — setting up testing for people to come to, whether they have symptoms, that's free for Missourians and intended to get a better sense of the prevalence of COVID-19.
Community testing is scheduled to be available July 7-9 in Cole County. More information is available through the Cole County Health Department at colecounty.org/186/Health-Department.
Williams added Tuesday there could be better public health messaging to younger people, as there has been a tendency for many of the new COVID-19 cases after a loosening of restrictions to be among younger people.
On the economic front of the COVID-19 pandemic, Parson also announced Tuesday the offices of statewide officials — including his office — the Missouri House and Senate would be restricting a combined total of $2.4 million from their budgets. No further details were immediately available.