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Missouri GOP Governor Rejects Calls From Federal Public Health Experts To Mandate Face Coverings Statewide
JEFFERSON CITY, MO - MAY 29: Gov. Mike Parson speaks during a press conference to discuss the status of license renewal for the St. Louis Planned Parenthood facility on May 29, 2019 in Jefferson City, Missouri. Parson stated that the facility still had until Friday to comply with the state in order to renew the license. (Photo by Jacob Moscovitch/Getty Images)
Jacob Moscovitch/Getty Images

Missouri Republican Governor Mike Parson on Tuesday rejected calls to enact stricter statewide policies that federal public health experts say would help curb COVID-19 transmission in the Show-Me-State, instead encouraging local officials to impose their own restrictions based on the needs of those communities.

The governor has repeatedly said he is not opposed to preventative measures like wearing face coverings, practicing physical distancing, and exercising proper hygiene — but Parson does not believe it’s his role to dictate such behaviors to his constituents.

“I have been very clear on that from the beginning and that has not changed,” Parson said last month. “What I am opposed to is mandates from this position to the people of this state.”

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the White House Coronavirus Task Force recently asked Parson’s administration to increase statewide mitigation efforts in a memo that outlined several recommendations “that must happen now,” including implementing statewide policies on “masking, physical distancing, hand hygiene, no indoor gatherings outside of immediate households, and aggressive testing…”

According to the outlet, “Parson has declined to issue statewide rules requiring mask or face coverings in public” and has “resisted limiting indoor restaurant capacity or bar service in virus hotspots.”

The state did issue a public health advisory last month “outlining expectations for all individuals living and working in the state.” It provided “guidance for personal behavior.” The warning, however, did not require people to comply with those suggestions.

“Missourians have to take that responsibility on themselves and I believe they will,” Parson has said. “Whether you’re in rural Missouri or whether you’re in urban (areas), the message is the same.”

“Governor Parson has been very clear and consistent about his support for local control,” Kelli Jones, a spokesperson for the governor, said in a statement to the Post-Dispatch. “Every individual MUST take action to minimize the spread of COVID-19…it is imperative that Missourians take personal responsibility and social distance, wear a mask, practice personal hygiene, and limit their gatherings.”

Ms. Jones described Parson’s coronavirus response as a “balanced approach.”

The Post-Dispatch obtained a series of memos from the White House task force through public records requests to Gov. Parson’s office.

A Nov. 22 report encouraged the Parson administration to follow the lead of other states, saying “mitigation and messaging needs to be further strengthened as other states have done,” adding, “strong mitigation efforts by neighboring states are showing early impact.”

Most of the states bordering Missouri have statewide mask mandates, including Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Iowa, and Kansas.

Another memo dated Nov. 29 reads: “If state and local policies do not reflect the seriousness of the current situation, all public health officials must alert the state population directly.”

“The depth of viral spread across Missouri remains significant and without public health orders in place compelling Missourians to act differently, the spread will remain unyielding with significant impact on the healthcare system,” it continued.

As the Post-Dispatch reports:

The state reported 2,628 virus hospitalizations as of Saturday, the latest day for which data were available. Hospitalizations have not fallen below 2,500 since Nov. 27, after hovering around 950 statewide in early September. The state added 161 more virus deaths on Tuesday, the third-highest daily number so far, and it reported 3,250 new cases, about 600 higher than the day prior, but generally fewer than peaks two weeks ago. The seven-day average of new cases is now 3,645, according to Post-Dispatch data, down from a peak of 4,723 on Nov. 20.

Gov. Parson has raised concerns that a mask mandate could set a dangerous precedent when a vaccine becomes available.

“When you start mandating masks, from the governor’s position, one person, what do you do with the vaccine?” he said. “Do you really want the governor of the state of Missouri to say, ‘Every man, woman, and child is going to be mandated to take a vaccine,’ cause that’s the road you go down.”

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