Gov. Mike Parson’s statewide stay-at-home order to fight coronavirus that began Monday includes few additional restrictions compared to a social distancing order issued more than two weeks ago.
According to Parson, that’s the way he intended it to be.
“The first order I done in the state of Missouri was the most strict order we have done,” he said in Monday’s virtual press briefing. “It was no more than 10 people could ever be grouped up together, and six feet apart.”
Parson directed the head of the Department of Health and Senior Services, Dr. Randall Williams, to implement the social gathering order on March 21. The order limited gatherings to 10 or fewer people, encouraged people to avoid eating or drinking in bars or restaurants, and said people were not allowed to visit nursing homes or other long-term care facilities unless to provide critical assistance. It also closed all schools while it remained in effect, until Monday.
That order did not close any businesses, but instead said that nonessential businesses had to abide by clear restrictions: fewer than 10 people and non-family members must be at least six feet apart.
It also did not specifically tell Missourians to stay home, but Parson had been regularly doing so at his daily briefings.
“It is just not about encouraging people to stay home,” Parson said on Friday while issuing the stay-at-home order. “I have done that every day in these weekly briefings for two weeks.”
But his stay-at-home order did put that recommendation into writing. The order states “individuals currently residing within the state of Missouri shall avoid leaving their homes or places of residence.”
This is something local leaders and medical groups had been requesting for weeks. Missouri is one of the last states to do so in the country. St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson said she’d been advocating for a statewide stay-at-home order because she felt it sent a stronger, more serious message to all Missourians.
“That didn’t happen,” she said. “So local officials did act, and I’m glad that we did.”
St. Louis, along with several other cities and counties in the state, issued their own stay-at-home orders and closed down nonessential businesses to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
However, Parson’s statewide order does not go that far. It allows nonessential businesses to remain open as long as they still abide by his original social distancing order. It does allow local governments to impose stricter rules, however.
The only change for businesses is for those that are deemed essential. It limits the number of individuals to 25% or less of the fire or building code for a location with less than 10,000 square feet and 10% for buildings that are larger. He says he made this decision because essential businesses are now “hotbeds” for the virus.
“What we have seen, and what the medical experts have told us, is that in some instances the essential businesses have become hotbeds for transmission,” Parson said on Friday. “By tightening these exemptions that have led to the unintended funnel effect, my order goes further than any directive in the state.”
Enforcement for the statewide order, which was also the case for the social distancing order, falls on local health officials. Even punishments for noncompliance will be decided by local officials.
“It’s going to go back to the local authorities, the health departments there would go to the courts to get a court order to enforce either a misdemeanor or fine,” Parson said at Monday’s daily briefing.
State Rep. Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, was initially encouraged by the governor’s order but quickly changed tune one day later after she said Parson was dishonest in his announcement.
“The order is not at all what was advertised and what health care professionals and Missouri residents had been demanding for weeks,” the House minority leader said in a statement. “It is so riddled with exemptions that it differs little from the weak and ineffective social distancing directive the administration previously issued, and it formally punts responsibility for imposing stricter measures to local officials.”
On Monday, Parson maintained that an earlier statewide order would have done little to slow the spread. He said rural parts of the state were less affected by the virus.
“You also have to look and see, as the governor, look at all counties across the state,” said Parson. “It was less than a week ago there was probably 90-some counties out there that had three cases or less within their counties. And still, 40 counties that probably don’t have any.”
But Krewson, as well as others, is concerned that the virus may be more prevalent in rural areas, and once testing becomes more available, larger hospitals will become overwhelmed.
“They say, ‘Well, we don’t have any cases,’” said Krewson of rural areas in Missouri. “Then you say, ‘No, you just don’t have any cases because you haven’t had hardly any testing. You don’t really know how many cases you have.’”
As of Monday, DHSS said approximately 31,654 patients in Missouri had been tested for the virus.
Parson has and continues to preach the need for personal responsibility, and he says more government is not the answer.
“I don’t think any piece of paper is going to tell Missourians exactly what to do,” he said. “As I’ve said all along, it’s the personal responsibility of everyone in this state to do the right thing and I think people are doing the right thing.”