JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Governor Mike Parson appeared on “Moving Forward: A Missouri Town Hall” to answer the questions from viewers from across the state about Missouri’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
At Lake of The Ozarks this Memorial Day weekend, several videos went viral, showing masses of people not social distancing, swimming together, dancing, and eating. FOX 2’s Vic Faust asked Parson what he thought about the mass gatherings.
The governor said the mass gatherings at the lake were unfortunate and it’s not something he wants his state to be known for that around the country.
“I don’t think we want to brand everybody in…Missouri for what a few did down at the lake,” he said.
Parson it’s important to remember the majority of people in the state—and even those visiting the Lake of the Ozarks—were doing the right thing, practicing social distancing and wearing masks when out in public.
The governor believes Missourians have done an excellent job in responding to the virus and reiterated his stance that people must exercise personal responsibility and that it’s up to local authorities to handle their own enforcement of any stay-at-home order.
“We don’t live in a police state. We’re not going to live in a police state. That’s not who we are,” Parson said. “…I’m not saying they’re bad people (at the lake), they just made bad judgment for the time.”
Gov. Parson said he wouldn’t like the federal government coming to Missouri and telling him what to do, so he doesn’t want to go to a city or county and tell them how to handle matters.
The governor said the decisions he’s made regarding the state’s fight against COVID-19 have only come after examining data from experts.
With the governor’s stay-at-home order soon coming to an end, Missourians have wondered what the summer will hold. Will entertainment venues reopen? Will people be able to attend concerts or sporting events, participate in summer programs?
While Parson said he’d like to see people be active and things reopen, the governor stressed it’s important to pay attention to the data. That means waiting to see if there’s any bump in cases from Memorial Day weekend. Symptoms of COVID-19 can take as long as two weeks to appear, so any fallout from the previous weekend will take time to reveal itself.
The governor said he receives—and relies on—feedback and counsel from 10 infectious disease doctors across Missouri during weekly conference calls.
Regarding testing, Gov. Parson said the state now has the capacity to test anybody who wants one. At the beginning of the pandemic, Missouri was lacking in testing resources but is now averaging approximately 60,000 tests per week. Parson said the federal government has set a goal of completing 120,000 tests per month.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services admitted Saturday that it had combined PCR and antibody tests following CDC guidelines, which created an artificially lower percentage of positive cases. State leadership only learned of it Thursday night. Now, tests are separated for the department’s public dashboard.
Meanwhile, Missouri is expecting a massive budget shortfall. The governor has warned cuts and furloughs will be coming. He expects special sessions in the state legislature to address some of the financial woes.
“We’ll deal with it. People are just going to have to take a bite of the apple and that doesn’t leave anybody out; the governor’s office included,” Parson said. “…Everybody’s going to have to kind of suck it up here a little bit and do a better job financially. But we’ll get through it and the economy will turn around!”
And while the state’s pandemic response is at the forefront, Gov. Parson said other problems facing the state haven’t gone away – issues like violent crime and storm recovery.
Face masks have now become a political issue, as those in favor of masks point to recent information from the CDC confirming that wearing a mask offers some protection while others believe being told to wear one infringes on their rights.
“I’ve always been under the assumption that if somebody asks me to wear a mask – I went into Ford Motor Company the other day; they said, ‘Hey, we want everybody to wear a mask.’ Fine. I want to go in there, so I’m going to wear a mask,” Parson said.
“But it doesn’t necessarily mean everybody has to wear a mask if you don’t feel comfortable and you don’t want to wear one. Just remember social distancing is what you should be doing more than anything. The mask got to be such a hot-button issue…it goes back to your individual responsibility and your individual right. If you want to wear one, wear one; if you don’t, don’t.”