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Despite Parson's announcement, the pandemic is not over, St. Louis officials say

About 1 in 3 Missourians are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and some are relishing the freedom to resume certain activities. Others are struggling with feelings of anxiety, despite being vaccinated.  "It's a problem, if it's a problem for you. Nobody else can make that determination about what is acceptable for you in your life," said psychologist Alison Menatti.
David Kovaluk
/
St. Louis Public Radio
State health officials have announced they will start treating the coronavirus as an endemic illness similar to the flu. But other health experts say such a pronouncement comes too soon.

Missouri officials have announced an end to the coronavirus pandemic emergency, saying the state is moving on from the crisis.

But public health officials think it may be too early to declare victory over the pandemic.

“I found it laughable,” Dr. Faisal Khan, St. Louis County's acting health director, said of the state’s announcement earlier this week. “The pandemic is certainly not over; it's certainly not entering any semblance of an endemic phase. Pronouncements of victory are premature and self-delusional.”

State health officials said the change in focus did not mean the virus had vanished. Instead, the state will treat it as a continuing threat similar to illnesses like strep throat and the flu.

The state will cease contact tracing efforts and report case data less frequently.

Statements that celebrate the end of the pandemic could erode public trust in local health departments and make any future health orders difficult to enforce, Khan said.

“From a public health perspective, this is completely unnecessary and unhelpful,” he said, adding the pandemic isn’t over just because people decide it is. “The coronavirus and its variants are still a public health threat, whether it’s a bump or surge we don’t know, but now is not the time to declare victory unilaterally and let down our guard.”

Just over 400 new cases of the coronavirus are being reported in Missouri each day, the lowest rate in more than a half-year.

Infection rates and hospitalizations are low, and large spikes of the virus aren’t showing up in the state’s sewer systems, said Lynelle Phillips, a University of Missouri professor and vice president of the state’s public health association.

But new variants could occur and cause spikes in cases, she said.

“We don’t want a message that says 'OK, it’s over, back to life as normal,'” Phillips said. “It may be lurking in a low-level amount of transmission right now, but it’s lurking. So we need to have all those preparations in place.”

Continuing surveillance of testing data and sewer shed surveillance is vital to track when and where those future spikes could happen, she said.

Members of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, which comprises the region’s four largest hospital systems, also encouraged continued vigilance.

“We have collectively sacrificed and worked hard to get to this place in the pandemic, We continue to urge vigilance and vaccination,” the task force said in a statement. “COVID will continue to be with us, but we are in a much better place now. Let us use this time now to continue vaccinations and rebuild our public health and healthcare infrastructure that gave so much over the past two years.”

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @petit_smudge

Sarah is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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