Springfield Mayor Ken McClure urged Gov. Mike Parson to mandate masks statewide in a letter last week, echoing public health experts who say that’s what's needed to best address the spread of COVID-19 here.


In the letter dated Aug. 13, McClure said that multiple cities in the region — Springfield, Branson and Forsyth — already require masks in public, as do the major metropolitan areas of Kansas City and St. Louis.


But McClure said that’s not enough to slow the spread given the connections between cities with mandates and their suburbs and surrounding rural areas where masks are not required.


"Our communities are too interrelated socially and economically for islands of masking to be effective," McClure wrote. "A united, statewide approach would be the best approach to stem the surge of COVID-19 and return Missouri to normal."


There have been only six days since July 20 with fewer than 1,000 new coronavirus infections in the state. On Thursday, the Department of Health and Senior Services reported another 1,058 cases, bringing the total since March to 71,733.


There was at least one new case reported in 85 of the state’s 117 local health department jurisdictions on Thursday and, in the past week, only three jurisdictions have not reported at least one new case.


There were three additional deaths reported on Thursday, bringing the state total to 1,417.


The positive rate on tests in the past week in Missouri was 10.8 percent.


McClure said one way Springfield sees that is in its hospitals, which treat patients throughout southwest Missouri.


More than 70 percent of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Springfield as of Aug. 10 were from outside Greene County, McClure noted.


"Keeping our friends in outstate Missouri healthy and out of Springfield hospitals keeps our capacity strong and helps prevent transmission into our community," he added.


Statewide, hospitalizations on Thursday were near their highest point in the pandemic, with 912 people being treated as inpatients.


McClure also wrote about his own decision to support Springfield’s masking ordinance, which took effect July 16, as a choice between making stay-at-home order sacrifices count or "stepping backwards."


"When compared with the possibility of further shutting down our community," he said, "it has been a very easy decision for me."


McClure said that the stakes remain high now, too.


"The impact will not resolve itself while COVID-19 continues to spread, which makes employees fearful of going to work, customers fearful of doing business, and parents fearful of sending their children to school," he wrote. "It is my belief and that of my colleagues on the Springfield City Council that Missourians would be able to get back to their normal lives much sooner if masks were required."


It was not immediately clear Wednesday whether or not Parson had read the letter, and attempts to get comment on it by deadline were unsuccessful.


Parson, a Republican, has publicly and repeatedly declined to issue such a mandate many times, despite indications they have slowed caseload growth in other states, including Kansas, and may have prevented an outbreak at a Springfield Great Clips.


Parson generally frames the idea as unnecessary in rural areas and a matter of personal choice or responsibility.


Parson did so again Tuesday after a meeting with Dr. Deborah Birx, a top adviser on the White House coronavirus task force.


Birx brought up how Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott, a Republican like Parson, tried to walk the urban-rural divide by mandating masks in every county with more than 20 cases, and Parson called it a "great model" in a press conference.


But when asked if he would follow suit, Parson said most "high areas" already have mandates and pivoted to personal responsibility.


"You can have the guidelines all day long," he said, "but at the end of the day, someone's got to take those guidelines and say 'Are we willing to do that? Are we willing to give up gatherings? Are we willing to do social distancing?’


Parson did not say how he defined a "high area."


Despite becoming a national hot spot in July, counties in far southwest Missouri have never gone beyond encouraging masks and the city of Joplin voted Monday night to rescind its mandate and capacity restrictions on businesses despite a resurgence in active cases this month.


State officials have pointed out that overall, Missouri’s cases and deaths per resident compare favorably with most other states.


But the cases have been trending up here in the past few weeks.


Since July 20, the day before the state recorded its first daily increase of 1,000 or more, Missouri’s infection rate has been among the highest in the nation, climbing into into the top half of states and the top spot overall in the Midwest region for the period, surpassing states like Michigan and Illinois that were hit harder earlier in the crisis.


Missouri’s death rate has similarly climbed into the top half of states in the same time period.


Rudi Keller of the Columbia Daily Tribune contributed to this report.


Austin Huguelet is the News-Leader's politics reporter. Got something he should know? Have a question? Call him at 417-403-8096 or email him at ahuguelet@news-leader.com.