The Missouri stay-at-home order needs to remain in place until the state has enough testing capability to protect people from COVID-19 as they return to work and other normal activities, Gov. Mike Parson said Wednesday.

The state order, which took effect April 6, is currently set to expire April 24. In his daily news briefing, Parson said he has been consulting local leaders, governors in other states and the data on Missouri cases. A full announcement of his plans will come Thursday, Parson said.

Stay-at-home orders also expire April 24 in the Columbia, Springfield, St. Louis and Kansas City areas.

While Parson stressed Wednesday the importance of restarting the state economy, he said the state is not ready for the order to be rescinded.

"The next couple of weeks is going to be a critical time for our state," Parson said. "I am asking all Missourians to step up. The next two weeks will decide what decisions we make for the future of this state."

In Boone County, Department of Public Health and Human Services Director Stephanie Browning is consulting with health care providers and community leaders about the next step in combating the coronavirus pandemic, Columbia city spokesman Steve Sapp wrote in a text message.

Springfield Mayor Ken McClure said he would be issuing an updated emergency proclamation next week as the city and Greene County begin to focus on "recovery."

He said he could not yet offer specifics, though he noted it would likely not include an immediate return to business as usual.

"I’m delighted to even be talking about that, but it won’t be an immediate back to normal order, and it can’t be," he said. "I think it’ll be a phased approach guided by science and data. That’ll be dictating a lot of what we do."

McClure noted opening up too soon would put the area at risk for a spike in cases that could overwhelm the hospital system.

"The last thing I want to do is have a situation where we have to retract," he said.

In a text message, a Greene County spokeswoman said the commission would be making a decision about its stay-at-home order next week, though she declined to offer specifics.

Parson spoke soon after the state Department of Health and Senior Services on Wednesday reported 209 new infections from the coronavirus pandemic, with 156 of the new cases in the state’s two largest metropolitan areas. The state now has confirmed 4,895 infections through testing. The state has recorded 147 deaths, up 14 from Tuesday.

It is the first time since March 30 that the state has not recorded 1,000 new infections in a four-day period. Models suggest the state’s worst death toll will come in about two weeks.

There is now at least one confirmed COVID-19 infection in 94 of the 117 local health department jurisdictions that report to the state. That is up from 91 on Tuesday. The largest outbreaks of disease continue to be in the state’s largest metropolitan areas.

Deaths have been reported in 27 counties, including the first in rural Dunklin County in far southeast Missouri.

State data shows there are 1,938 cases in St. Louis County, an increase of 87 from Tuesday, and 700 in the city of St. Louis, an increase of five. There are 392 cases in St. Charles County, up 24 from Tuesday.

On the other side of the state, Kansas City added 25 cases to bring its total confirmed cases to 371, and Jackson County outside the city had 243, an increase of six from Tuesday.

Boone County’s local confirmed case count rose to 86 on Wednesday, up three from Tuesday, with the state report showing 90 cases, also three more than Tuesday.

The count in Greene County increased by five to 78.

Parson said he hopes the state is starting to slow the upward trend of the coronavirus.

"It is important, critically important, for us to make sure and abide by this order for the next couple of weeks," Parson said.

Officials in the two major metro areas are also talking about an extension, The Associated Press reported.

The economic impact of the pandemic has been enormous, both for the state and the nation.

More than 235,000 Missourians filed for unemployment in late March and early this month. The March unemployment rate for the state jumped to 4.5%, the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations reported Wednesday.

"The full impact of COVID-19 is not reflected in the March labor market data but is expected to be reflected in the April 2020 jobs report," the department stated in the release giving the figures.

And one of the state’s best-known tourist attractions, Silver Dollar City in Branson, filed a notice with the state that it was furloughing 257 employees indefinitely.

Since the Boone County order was issued, the number of known COVID-19 infections in the state has grown from 255 on March 24 to almost 5,000.

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said Wednesday that he, other regional leaders and medical experts have been in discussions and that a decision could be announced this week.

"I would expect from those discussions that the stay-at-home order will be extended into May, but I’m not prepared to give you a specific date," said Page, a Democrat.

St. Louis County, the state's most populous county with 1 million residents, has been hit harder by the coronavirus than anyplace else in Missouri. The county has reported 1,896 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 58 deaths from the disease caused by the virus.

Kansas City's health director, Dr. Rex Archer, told KCUR that public health and elected officials will gather this week to recommend a plan for when to reopen businesses.

Archer and Page agree that access to more testing is vital before stay-at-home orders can be lifted. Archer also cited a need to ensure that there is adequate personal protective equipment for health care providers.

One of the elements needed to lift the orders is the availability of widespread testing, Parson said.

During the briefing, state health Director Dr. Randall Williams said using a test for antibodies to COVID-19, expected to be approved soon by the FDA, will help identify people who have been exposed and are now immune. That will help with assigning first responders and identify the extent of exposure in the general public, he said.

The state had tallied 48,803 tests in state and commercial labs through Tuesday afternoon.

In Columbia, MU Health Care’s testing service had completed 3,855 tests, with 104 positive results. Boone Hospital Center has performed 1,070 tests, with 18 positive results.

Nationally, the 24-hour period that ended at 4 p.m. Wednesday was the deadliest yet for the COVID-19 pandemic. There have been 27,850 deaths from the infection, an increase of 2,611 from the same time Tuesday.

The U.S. now has more than 630,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus.

Worldwide, the virus is known to have infected more than 2 million people and is blamed for 133,354 deaths.

Katie Kull of the Springfield News-Leader and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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