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Despite Pleas From Hospital Leaders, Parson Cites ‘Local Control’ In Avoiding Mandates

Jason Rosenbaum
St. Louis Public Radio
Credit Jason Rosenbaum / St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Public Radio
Governor Mike Parson is the top executive of the state of Missouri.

Several of the state’s top doctors and hospital administrators have implored Governor Mike Parson to implement statewide measures to slow the rampant spread of the coronavirus—in particular a mandate for face coverings in public.  But Parson says such mandates don’t mesh with his beliefs on the role of state government.

At an October 23 press conference in Springfield on new, COVID-19 saliva testing, Parson praised the expertise and advice of CoxHealth’s infectious disease doctor, Robin Trotman. The governor has also commended the organization’s CEO, Steve Edwards. Both experts have advised the governor to implement a statewide mask mandate—something Parson has refused to do.

When asked about that—specifically, whose expertise he was prioritizing over theirs—Parson didn’t give names, but rather a perspective.

“They look at it from the medical perspective.  And I understand that totally. But I have to look at it from governor, from day one, for the entire state of Missouri—and how that affects all of us. And things change with that daily. I think of the governor of the state of Missouri, you have to be very careful when you do statewide mandates,” Parson said.

Nicole Galloway is the Democratic candidate for governor in Missouri.
Credit Missouri Auditor's Office
Missouri Auditor's Office
Nicole Galloway is the Democratic candidate for governor in Missouri.

Parson has urged Missourians to wear masks, indicating he believes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, when it says masks can help prevent COVID-19.

So we followed up with another question:   when considering this issue from a statewide perspective, what are the top one or two reasons he has not issued a mask mandate?

“Because I’m a firm believer in local control. I’ve been that through my entire administration, that I believe in those things.   And I believe people need to have that choice to do that when it comes to health care,” Parson said.

And that’s in line with Republican tenets of government. For example, the national Republican party’s most recent platform champions getting rid of some government regulation. And it defends decision-making on the smaller level, specifically mentioning communities and families.

The governor is seeking a second term on Tuesday. His opponents have very different ideas on how to fight the coronavirus. 

The leaders of CoxHealth, one of the state's largest healthcare providers, have asked Governor Mike Parson to implement a statewide mask mandate.
Credit Children's Miracle Network / CoxHealth
The leaders of CoxHealth, one of the state's largest healthcare providers, have asked Governor Mike Parson to implement a statewide mask mandate.

Democratic challenger, Nicole Galloway, supports a statewide mask mandate and other advice from Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. The Libertarian Party candidate, Rik Combs, said he would do away with all statewide mandates and also the state of emergency that allows local municipalities to enact mandates. Combs said addressing the pandemic should be done solely by the private sector, not government.  And we were unable to connect with the Green Party candidate by our deadline.

Some city councils have expressed concerns about adopting local mask ordinances because of the threat of lawsuits. 

Parson said he would support legislation that protects municipalities from lawsuits over coronavirus mandates.

“Most certainly. As a matter of fact, I would do that any day—when the legislators come forward, when leadership in both chambers come in and we have a plan to do that, I would make that part of the special session on that,” Parson said.

He added he’d support similar protections for hospitals and schools making tough decisions, too.

Parson’s press conference was held on the ground floor of CoxHealth in Springfield, a few stories below where more than 90 patients are currently battling COVID-19.

Copyright 2021 KSMU. To see more, visit KSMU.


As the Journalist-in-Residence at Missouri State University, Jennifer teaches undergraduate and graduate students, oversees a semester-long, team reporting project, and contributes weekly stories to KSMU Radio in the area of public affairs journalism.