Missouri Gov. Mike Parson is likely to soon face the biggest decision of his time in office.


President Trump has suggested that – despite the best scientific and medical evidence – he may be on the verge of relaxing federal guidelines on social distancing and other measures to slow the spread of COVID-19. The key point there is slowing the spread, and that’s where the emphasis needs to remain. This fight is far from over, regardless of the rhetoric from the White House.


So far, Parson has been too willing to defer to the slow federal response to this crisis rather than move forcefully. It’s been left to local governments to take such steps as stay-at-home orders, something entire states have done and Missouri should.


However, Parson also rightly acknowledged a few days ago that we need to be thinking in terms of months, not weeks, before we turn the corner on COVID-19. A relaxation of federal guidelines now would be confusing and counterproductive.


The governor needs to say this: We will stay the course. We will follow the science rather than react to wishful thinking.


The economy is crucially important, but the devastation to people and the economy should the state and nation’s health-care system – especially hospitals – be overwhelmed is to be avoided at all costs.


Missouri’s reported COVID-19 cases have risen sharply day after day this week, reaching more than 600 on Friday. It takes time for social distancing to work and the flattening of the curve to take effect. We want to avoid what New York, the current hot spot, is going through.


The economy won’t spring back until the immediate issue – the spread of this disease – is addressed and measures begin to meaningfully take hold. The numbers are still going up, and a leveling off and an eventual decrease are not yet in sight. People won’t feel good about getting out on a wide scale until they are confident about their safety, and that’s what the economy fundamentally needs.