Rural Missouri pastor: Virus 'just started to sprout up' (copy)

In this June 22 photo provided by Lauren Manning, Pastor Joshua Manning poses outside his Community Baptist Church in Noel, Missouri. The town of 1,800 residents has been hit hard by the coronavirus, and Manning believes he, his wife and their three children all have it.

Debating the finer points of a “spike” versus a “surge” might be like debating whether or not a hot dog is a sandwich.

It’s all the same when you start chewing.

In the case of spikes and surges, the issue came up in Missouri when Gov. Mike Parson and Health Director Dr. Randall Williams discussed a worrisome increase in COVID-19 cases in the state’s southwest corner.

We call it an increase because that’s what you say when the second number is larger than the first. However, a “spike” is apparently less concerning than a “surge,” so state officials are eager to characterize the latest numbers as the former.

“This is not a surge or a second wave,” the governor said this week. “We have no intention of closing Missouri back down at this point.”

The ability of officials to control this outbreak is becoming a critical issue for a state that desperately needs to get its economy back on track. It would be best to worry less about semantics and focus on the task at hand, which is to “box in” the outbreak that’s centered in Barry, Jasper, McDonald and Newton counties.

In McDonald County, home of a Tyson chicken plant, nearly 500 cases were confirmed out of a total county population of 23,000. Only four Missouri counties, plus the cities of St. Louis and Kansas City, have seen more positive test results.

It is easy to look at this kind of trend and demand a return to statewide stay-at-home orders. But during the height of the lockdown that covered the entire state, those who lived in counties with few cases looked around and wondered about the logic of a one-size-fits-all response.

Missouri is best to stick with a flexible response, one that leaves the decisions to local authorities but also allows for a vigorous state action in certain areas, if necessary. In most states with outbreaks, the cases were found in clusters and not evenly spread throughout every county.

Businesses and schools need to be open, but this only happens if there’s a certain buy-in from the public, despite the fatigue from the last few months. This means a willingness to wear masks, submit to testing and tracing, maintain social distancing and show common sense about travel to high-density areas or places that are experiencing rising caseloads.

All too often, voluntary is taken to mean optional. That’s true in a technical sense, but what it means in this case is if people do the little things, then the government won’t have to do the big things that proved so disruptive and costly in the spring.

Parson shouldn’t close Missouri down at this point. All Missourians should do their part to make sure he doesn’t have to take that kind of action.