ST. LOUIS ( -- Missouri reached a new record high on Friday for its seven-day positivity rate and some health experts say Governor Mike Parson appears to misunderstand what the rate means.

Election 2020 Governor Missouri

Missouri Republican Gov. Mike Parson speaks during a news conference in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

It's been over seven months since the first case was announced in the state yet current numbers are not headed in the right direction. Missouri's positivity rate was 17.9% on Thursday and rose to 18.3% Friday, well above the national average of 5.2%. The World Health Organization said months ago a state should get its positivity rate down to 5% before it was safe to open schools and businesses again.

[READ: What does a virus positivity rate mean and why does it matter?]

Parson on Friday acknowledged the positivity rate increased dramatically, but appears to be at-odds with doctors about why.

"We went from like 2,000 tests a week to 125,000. Your positivity rate is going to go up because you're going to find more people," Parson said Friday.

Dr. Alex Garza agreed that the increase in testing means there will be an increase in overall cases but having almost 20% of tests come back positive is a "serious indication that there's increased transmission out in the community."

"It's not necessarily the number of cases. We know if we test more we will see a higher number of cases, but it's the proportion of cases that are positive that's important," Garza said.
The state went through a brief lockdown and several temporary regulations were put in place but there was never a statewide mask mandate and Garza said there's "a lot of evidence that [wearing masks] is an effective tool to bring cases down."

Garza gave the example of St. Louis City and County where masks have been mandatory since July 3 and the positivity rate in both justifications is among the lowest in the region. St. Louis City's seven-day positivity rate reached 5.3% Friday. The county's rate was at 5.7% on Friday. 

Parson has refused to issue more statewide mandates and has left it up to local leaders to make public health orders. Jefferson County officials insist there will be no mask mandate anytime soon and their positivity rate reached 16.8% Friday, according to the state's coronavirus dashboard.

[READ: Kansas City-area hospitals overwhelmed, turn away ambulances]

The positivity rate was recently the focus of leaders in the Metro East, who encouraged more people to be tested in order to bring down their overall infection rate. That tactic seemed to work, as Governor Pritzker lifted restrictions when the infection rate for the region that includes St. Clair, Madison and Monroe counties fell to 6.5%.

Parson on Friday said people should wear a mask, something he has repeatedly asked for, and use social distancing, and admitted he was concerned about the rising rates of hospitalizations. 

"We're concerned about that," Parson said. "That's something we've got to take a look at. But again we've got plenty of capacity at this point. More isolated areas have to deal with that, southwest Missouri down where I'm from is one that's getting hit kind of the hardest." Parson said that the death rate has dropped dramatically from its peak in March.

Missouri's positivity rate isn't the only alarming trend the state is leading. The state has broken its own record several times this month with the number of people hospitalized for the virus. That number reached 1,443 Thursday, the highest on record. 

The state is in the top 10 list in the country for its rolling seven-day average of new cases and new deaths. It ranks number seven for cases after reporting almost 11,000 cases and number four in deaths after 62 people died in the last week.

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