The latest variant of the coronavirus is raging through Missouri, with hospitals experiencing crisis-level overcrowding. Schools are struggling to stay open because of teacher absences. Missourians in need of testing are finding bare shelves at pharmacies and long lines at testing centers.
In response, Gov. Mike Parson is … declaring the crisis effectively over and taking a victory lap.
Parson announced just before the end of the year that the latest round of emergency measures would be allowed to expire on New Year’s Eve. “Thanks to the effectiveness of the vaccine, widespread efforts to mitigate the virus, and our committed health care professionals, past needs to continue the state of emergency are no longer present,” Parson said in the announcement, adding that there is “no longer a need for a state of emergency.”
Back here on Planet Earth, the pandemic is raging like never before.
In a recent interview with St. Louis’ Fox 2 news, Parson dismissed talk of resuming mass state testing sites. When asked whether Missouri has enough tests out there to meet the spikes in demand, Parson answered: “Most certainly we do.” Someone should tell that to Parson’s own Department of Health and Senior Services, which announced the very next day that the state’s online ordering system for free at-home coronavirus tests was being temporarily paused to allow test providers to catch up with soaring demand.
Ending the state of emergency means national guard units, which at one time were assisting in mass testing sites, will no longer be involved in pandemic response. Perhaps more crucially at the moment, it ends hundreds of waivers the state had allowed on state regulations, including allowing hospitals to use unlicensed spaces for extra capacity and other needed flexibility.
The timing couldn’t be worse. St. Louis-area health systems are so overwhelmed with coronavirus patients that at least one, BJC HealthCare, announced it was canceling all elective procedures. “This surge is unlike any we’ve seen before,” Dr. Aamina Akhtar, chief medical officer for Mercy Hospital South, told reporters.
Schools, too, are getting hit hard by Parson’s “back-to-normal” fantasy. As the Post-Dispatch’s Blythe Bernhard reported, some school districts are seeing teacher absentee rates of close to 20% because of coronavirus infections, with student absences also skyrocketing. And those districts generally won’t have the flexibility to use virtual learning to navigate the absences because the state has returned to a pre-pandemic rule that limits funding of districts to 36 hours of virtual learning per school year.