Like his role model in the White House, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson has, through sheer determination, learned nothing from his own experience with a virus that has already killed more than 211,000 Americans.
After 10 days in isolation, Parson has returned to public life unchanged by COVID-19 and uninterested even now in the kind of statewide mask mandate that public health authorities have said would significantly curtail its spread: “If as a country we actually did” wear masks and socially distance, says the dean of infectious disease experts, Anthony Fauci, “we wouldn’t be in the position we’re in right now.”
Missouri, one of only 15 states that does not have such an order, also remains in the red zone for cases. St. Joseph is on the list of the 20 worst hotspots in the country right now, and Branson is on the list of the 20 places where the number of cases is rising the fastest.
So how fitting that Parson was in St. Joseph this week when he said simply telling Missouri residents “to do the right thing” was preferable to the mandate we need. Which can only be because Parson has decided that it’s politically preferable to continue to go along with President Donald Trump’s fatal fantasy that masks are emasculating.
On Monday, Parson claimed he wasn’t aware that the president had said COVID-19 was nothing to fear. (“Don’t let it dominate you!” the president said. “Don’t be afraid of it! You’re gonna beat it!”)
“I don’t know what the president’s opinion are,” Parson said, “but I’m telling you what mine is as the governor of Missouri, and I’m concerned about it every day and what it does to the people of this state, and I’m going to fight for that every day and try to make sure I keep people as safe as I can.”
Concerned or not, he is not making Missouri locals as safe as he could. And that’s been the case throughout this pandemic.
In case the last seven months are a blur, here’s a refresher: In March, as officials across the country were taking action, Parson kept saying that the key to stopping COVID-19 was “personal responsibility.”
By April 1, only he and three other governors — in Iowa, Nebraska and Tennessee — had failed to issue either a statewide stay-at-home order, a statewide order to close non-essential services, or a statewide school closure order.
On April 6, Parson finally did issue a modified order, closing nonessential businesses, imposing an occupancy limit on some businesses and ordering social distancing. Even then, he continued to insist that wearing a mask was completely optional: “It’s up to the individual what they want to do.”
By May 4, Missouri was, as Parson said, wide open for business again. Ignoring public health advice, he skipped right over opening in stages and ignored Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines by not wearing a mask while touring businesses in Joplin and Springfield that day. “I chose not to,” he explained. “I don’t think that it is government’s role to mandate who wears one. It really goes back to your personal responsibility.”
“There was a lot of information on both sides,” of the question of whether we all ought to wear one, he said, hopelessly flubbing his own responsibility.
And anyway, he said, the pandemic was winding down. “We believe we are on the downside of this virus.”
In June, he blamed the media for politicizing “the mask deal.”
“The ones that don’t want to wear a mask should have every right not to wear one if they don’t feel like they want to wear one.”
On July 11, a bunch of cattle ranchers cheered his remark that “You don’t need government to tell you to wear a dang mask. If you want to wear a dang mask, wear a mask.”
Later that month, he did have to walk back what sounded like indifference to whether kids got sick.
In August, Parson ignored the pleas of health care professionals, the advice of White House Coronavirus Task Force coordinator Deborah Birx and this commonsense S.O.S. from Springfield Mayor Ken McClure: “Our communities are too interrelated socially and economically for islands of masking to be effective.”
By then, a poll by GOP-leaning Remington Research found that 65% of likely voters in the state surveyed supported this statement: “The spread of COVID-19 is a public health threat, and face masks should be required in public.” But that, too, Parson ignored, right up until he and his wife Teresa tested positive Sept. 23.
Earlier in this pandemic, we believed that surely, as the death toll mounted, both of these leaders would start taking the virus more seriously, and would start responding less politically. That never happened. Then we said when someone close to them got sick, surely they would realize that even Marlboro men need to mask up. But no, as it turns out, not even then did they come to reality, though at least Parson has stopped saying there are “two sides” of equal validity on mask wearing.
“He’s not going to do anything contrary to the president,” said Democratic State Rep. Barbara Anne Washington, who also has COVID-19 and has two relatives in the hospital with it. “But the numbers are going up, and we’ve got to look at why.”