MISSOURI — Friday marked the start of the endemic phase of the coronavirus in Missouri. It is the fifth state to make the change, following California, Utah, New Jersey and Arizona.
“COVID is no longer new,” said Department of Health and Senior Services epidemiologist Nathan Koffarnus. “And that’s really what endemic means is that it’s there, and we have to find ways to live with it and deal with it.”
Following Governor Mike Parson’s announcement to reclassify the pandemic as endemic, the state will withdraw some of its pandemic resources. Neither the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nor the World Health Organization have declared it endemic.
Koffarnus is the Deputy Bureau Chief for the Office of Communicable Disease Control and Prevention at DHSS. He said the biggest change to the endemic status of Missourians is contact tracing.
“If you or someone you know is diagnosed with COVID, you should not necessarily expect a call from local public health to gather more information or to let you know that you are no longer a contact,” a Koffarnus said. “The goal is really to get away from trying to find every individual contact ID that every case has.”
Koffarnus said it will be up to people who test positive to tell anyone they have been in close contact with. He said response and mitigation strategies will be based on regional and community trends.
Vaccines and testing will continue; however, he will eventually switch to providing traditional health care over time, such as a flu shot. The virus will also be tracked through hospital surveillance.
Parson said one of the reasons for the change was the decrease in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in Missouri since January 2022.
“Over the past two months, the average number of daily cases of COVID-19 has decreased by more than 98%,” Governor Parson said. “Hospitalizations are down more than 86 percent.”
He said Missouri is currently experiencing its lowest levels of transmission since March 23, 2020. Koffarnus agreed, and he recently said the state has seen a significant decrease of around 160 to 180 cases per day. . However, Koffarnus said endemic does not mean COVID is going away.
“Endemic status means just the opposite,” Koffarnus said. “It means that COVID is not just with us, but is expected to remain in one form or another for the foreseeable future.”
However, Missouri will continue its COVID-19 testing efforts and offer vaccinations “as long as federal resources persist,” according to the PDF presentation linked to the Missouri DHSS website.
COVID-19 is expected to continue to spread in Missouri communities. However, the total number of cases for the past seven days will only be released once a week by the state. Dashboards will also be updated weekly instead of daily.
“We want to be clear that this does not mean that COVID is no longer present, or that future spikes in cases will not occur,” Governor Parson said. “However, with the knowledge we have gained and the tools we have acquired over the past two years, the threat posed by this virus has decreased significantly.”
Koffarnus said the sewer monitoring program will also continue for the foreseeable future.
“It’s going to be one of the main tenants going forward,” Koffarnus said. “It can sometimes take things faster than we can with case trends alone. It will certainly be a tool that we will use in public health to search for new variants and worrying signs.
He anticipates that more sewers will be added over time.
The state ended its COVID19 home test kit program on March 31. However, Missourians can still receive free coronavirus testing from the federal government.
The COVID-19 hotline and state website resources will continue in the endemic phase.