ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- Missouri's positivity rate reached 17.9% Thursday, its highest record to date. But what does that mean?

A positivity rate is the percentage of people who test positive out of all of the tests done. So for a seven-day positivity rate, almost 18% of all of those who got tested for the virus, got a positive result. 

[READ: Missouri sets new records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and positivity rate

The higher the positivity rate is, the more concerning it is. On a scale of 100, 18% doesn't seem like a lot but in May, the World Health Organization set 5% as the threshold for "too high."

That number is important to local and state officials. They use the positivity rate to measure community spread and to determine if enough testing is being done and ultimately decide what kind of mitigation moves need to be made.

The higher the number, the more it indicates community spread, the need for more testing and the stricter restrictions become. A low positivity rate means there's more control over the virus and the lesser need for rules.

The World Health Organizations also recommends the percent positive hang below 5% for at least two weeks before governments consider easing up.

Missouri's rate has been on a steady increase, indicating community spread and perhaps a lack in testing. Missouri Governor Parson has made it clear he has no intentions on making any state-wide mandates to control the virus, giving power to individual jurisdictions. 

Masks became mandatory in St. Louis City and County on July 3 and as of Thursday, the seven-day positivity rate for the city is 5.3% and 5% in the county. These numbers are according to the city and county's health departments, not the state.

The state's coronavirus dashboard shows the city's positivity rate at 12% and the county's at 8%. The state has had several reporting backlogs and errors and their data is oftentimes behind on the city and county's data.

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