JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — People around the state are waiting hours in line to get a COVID test, but Missouri’s governor says the state has plenty of supplies and does not plan to open a mass testing site.
Gov. Mike Parson said in an exclusive interview with our Missouri Capitol Bureau Reporter Emily Manley there is no shortage of tests in the state, except maybe for retailers. According to his office, Missouri has more than 150,000 COVID tests piled in its State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) warehouse.
“At some point, we have to get out of the business of COVID-19 and we have to realize that we have to move forward in the private sector to do this,” Parson said Tuesday.
In the past week, the state has reported more than 38,000 new COVID cases. That’s roughly 5,500 a day.
“The bad side is, yes, we have a lot of people getting tested for it — and a lot of people are getting it right now. But there’s also a positive side to that. The thing we don’t talk about very often is herd immunity,” Parson said.
Missourians around the state have said they are waiting hours in line for tests, others are looking online. When asked if the state has enough tests, Parson said yes.
“Most certainly we do,” Parson responded. “What you’re going to see most of the time is the ability to get the tests and I think that’s just long lines, staffing issues that they have as far as people taking tests.”
Parson’s office says inside the SEMA warehouse there are 93,600 “Professional” BinaxNOW tests and 58,368 “At-Home” BinaxNOW tests. A spokeswoman for the governor said the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) decides which entities receive shipments of these tests. Since each box has dozens of tests in them, they are not being distributed to the public.
“Right now, we have to make sure that whatever we can do to assist. We want to do that at the state level, but I don’t think it’s the state’s job to be able to go out there and to provide these mass testing sites,” Parson said. “We need to make sure that the private sector is taking their roll to get testing in here and to order those tests to have that stockpiled up.”
Previously, the Missouri National Guard has been called in to help with testing sites, but over the weekend, the state of emergency expired. The order had been in effect since March 13, 2020, and was extended five different times. The last extension in August was focused on health care staffing concerns.
“We looked over 600 regulations that we waived during the executive order process,” Parson said. “We probably realized that a lot of those things shouldn’t have been waived in the first place or we don’t need them.”
Parson said departments and agencies can work with lawmakers if they want to make permanent policy changes.
“We can go back now and clean that up and realized how it really affected us during the pandemic dealing with COVID-19,” Parson said.
Some of the waivers under the state of emergency helped hospitals. Senior vice president of strategic partnerships and communications at the Missouri Hospital Association (MHA) said it allowed for some additional flexibility for hospitals to treat more patients.
“Able to use unlicensed spaces in hospitals for extra capacity and use advanced practice registered nurses in ways they aren’t currently licensed to do so in Missouri,” Becker said. ‘It allowed telehealth encounters to replace face-to-face encounters to commence home health care services that are no longer allowable.”
She said MHA is working with DHSS and other licensing boards to see what can be done to extend the waivers for the next two to three months while hospitals are dealing with the current surge.
“What we are struggling with the most right now is seeing many hospital staff out because they are sick with COVID or they have been exposed,” Becker said. “We think we will be seeing the results of the New Year’s holiday coming up here in the next couple of weeks, so there is really nowhere to move patients. Every hospital is overwhelmed at this point.”
MHA reports more than 2,800 people are currently hospitalized with COVID. At the peak of the pandemic, the association says hospitals had 3,000 patients.
“You’re concerned when you see those numbers going up, but I will also say we are much more prepared for those numbers than what we were 20 months ago,” Parson said.
Missourians can have a COVID test shipped to their house from DHSS for free. It’s then shipped back to the lab for the results. There are also drive-thru testing sites and pharmacies across the state offering free COVID testing if you can get an appointment.