The recent exponential growth of coronavirus cases in Missouri and the threat of overwhelmed hospitals on Thursday finally pushed a suburban and rural county near St. Louis to require face masks.

ST. LOUIS — The recent exponential growth of coronavirus cases in Missouri and the threat of overwhelmed hospitals on Thursday finally pushed a suburban and rural county near St. Louis to require face masks. 

Franklin County's mask order takes effect Friday and expires Dec. 20, Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker announced in an email. 

The mandate is notable because local officials had resisted requiring masks in what Brinker described as "freedom-preserving" Franklin County. But that resistance changed after Republican Gov. Mike Parson's administration issued a public health warning Thursday and extended the state of emergency in Missouri through March. 

As of Friday, the state health department reported that there have been more than 26,000 new coronavirus cases in the past week, or about 3,700 new cases daily on average. Another 75 deaths have been reported.

For context, Parson said more new cases were reported in October than during the first eight months of the pandemic in Missouri, and new cases in November have already surpassed October.

The number of hospitalized coronavirus patients also is up, and hospitals have warned that they're struggling to maintain adequate staffing to cope with the surge in cases. 

Parson has so far refused to require masks statewide. He said he doesn't oppose the use of face masks but said it should be left to local governments to decide whether to enact mandates. 

Parson has instead stressed personal responsibility and asked people to wear masks, social distance and wash their hands often, especially in light of upcoming holidays. 

"It's all up to us, not government, but it's up to me and you to change the way we do Thanksgivings," Parson said. 

As more teachers are exposed to the virus and quarantined, one Kansas City-area school district has called on college students without teaching certificates to volunteer as substitutes. Schools in Independence, Missouri now are trying to recruit college students to make up for teacher shortages caused by the virus, the Kansas City Star reported.