Gov. Mike Parson speaks to the media outside of his Missouri Capitol office. (photo courtesy of the Missouri Governor’s Office)
A letter from the Missouri Hospital Association pleading for a state mask mandate was “not surprising,” Gov. Mike Parson said Thursday, as he repeated his opposition to statewide orders to limit the spread of COVID-19.
“If you look at it from a medical perspective, they have a different view than what I do as governor of the state of Missouri,” Parson said during his weekly briefing on COVID-19 issues.
Parson said new guidance would be issued later in the day to support local decisions to limit activity or require face coverings. But he emphasized that people must accept and adhere to recommended steps or the coronavirus will continue to spread.
“We are going to encourage them to take some sort of action to make this curb happen,” Parson said.
He added that he is not going to change how he approaches the state’s pandemic response or stop working with any group because they disagree with him about a mandate.
The hospital’s position is “not surprising,” Parson said. “It doesn’t change anything, either. I am still going to work with the hospital association. I am still going to support those organizations.”
Parson laid out sobering data on the rapid increase in cases during the past six weeks.
“The first eight months of COVID-19, all the cases combined, there was more cases in October than in those first 8 months,” Parson said. “The first half of November, the first 15 days of November, was more than the numbers for the full month of October. It will put a stress on the system if we don’t change the behavior of how we conduct ourselves.”
In October, the Department of Health and Senior Services reported 57,073 new COVID-19 infections and, through Thursday, 74,636 new infections so far this month. Cases are surging throughout the state and the hardest-hit counties, mainly in rural areas, have been pleading through their public statements for people to wear masks and maintain their distance.
Parson said he does not oppose masks, but said encouraging people to wear them, wash their hands often and maintain social distance remain his emphasis.
“I have been very clear on that from the beginning and that has not changed,” Parson said. “What I am opposed to is mandates from this position to the people of this state.”
With Thanksgiving next week, state health Director Randall Williams said people need to be ready to change their plans if they become ill. Anyone intending to travel or celebrate with a group of people outside their household should try to “semi-isolate themselves” for about a week ahead of time.
“If you do that, and you wake up the day before with a sore throat, can’t taste, can’t smell, and a bad headache, you don’t need to go,” Williams said.
There are some states and localities that are limiting the size of family gatherings. The Associated Press reports that Chicago is limiting social gatherings to 10 people or less.
As he spoke, Parson drew comparisons with other Midwest states. Many of those states, including several of Missouri’s neighbors, are seeing worse per capita case rates than Missouri, he noted.
And cases are increasing in those states, he said, including “some with some of the toughest restrictions in the United States.”
Of Missouri’s neighbors, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Iowa, and Kansas all have statewide mask mandates, with Iowa and Kansas issuing the orders this week. Oklahoma, Nebraska and Tennessee do not have statewide orders.
That shows it is personal behavior, not mandates, that determine whether the virus spreads, Parson said.
His family Thanksgiving, he said, will not be celebrated with his in-laws, who are in their 80s. But he also will not issue an order limiting the size of celebrations, he said.
“As the governor of Missouri, I am not going to mandate who comes to your home,” Parson said. “That choice becomes yours, as freedom. That is not our job to do as state government.”
Parson added that when a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, there will be no state requirement for anyone to take the shots.
“I would never punish someone because they don’t want to take a vaccine,” Parson said.
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