Missouri Gov. Mike Parson To Reopen State Through 'A Phased Approach'

Apr 15, 2020
Originally published on April 16, 2020 1:38 pm

When it comes to the spread of America's coronavirus outbreak across the 50 states, Missouri's infection rate and death rate fall roughly in the middle of the pack.

The state's stay-at-home order is currently set to expire on April 24 — at least a month earlier than many other states — though some cities in Missouri have issued longer stay-at-home orders.

In an interview Wednesday with All Things Considered, Gov. Mike Parson (R-Mo.) said he will decide when and how to reopen the state based on available data, such as the rate of infection and the availability of ICU beds and ventilators.

"It will be based on facts that we're receiving every day," the governor said.

Testing is limited in the state, but Parson said he believes it will become more available in the coming weeks.

Currently, the state is running 3,000 tests a day, which he said was not enough.

The governor estimated that 40,000 to 50,000 tests per day are needed.

"Testing is going to be a big factor when you really 'reopen' the state ... where people start feeling they're safe again to go out and come back to some sort of normal life," he said.

Until then, the governor is also looking at larger data trends that show how rural and urban areas are impacted differently by the coronavirus.

"I think you could see that in the next several weeks, we'll have a phased approach," Gov. Parson said. "We'll probably open the state up for economics, probably different areas of the state at different times."

The governor postponed municipal elections that were scheduled for last week until June 2 and confirmed that he does not plan to expand vote-by-mail options for those elections, describing it as a partisan issue.

"That's an issue that has to be done through the legislative process," he said, noting that the state legislature isn't in session right now.

"I just don't think any one individual should be out there making that call."

Listen to the conversation in full at the audio link above.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Across the U.S., governors are taking different approaches to the coronavirus. Some are creating regional networks to decide when to reopen their states, as Michigan's Gretchen Whitmer explained on this program yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GRETCHEN WHITMER: We know that COVID-19 doesn't respect party line and it doesn't respect the state line. And that's why we've all got to share our best information and move strategically together wherever possible.

SHAPIRO: She is a Democrat. Republican Gov. Mike Parson of Missouri oversees a state that is right in the middle of the pack when it comes to the outbreak. Missouri's infection rate is 26th out of the 50 states. Its death rate is 24th. And Gov. Parson joins us now to discuss his approach to this crisis.

Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

MIKE PARSON: Thank you for having me on today. I appreciate it very much.

SHAPIRO: We just heard Gov. Whitmer of Michigan say it's best for states to move together strategically. You took longer to issue stay-home orders in Missouri than some other governors. How closely are you coordinating with other states on your approach?

PARSON: Yeah. I think we're in constant contact with other states. We've been with - talking to the NGA, the National Governors Association, on a weekly phone calls, the White House on weekly briefings, along with fellow governors, some were - that I have relationships with in the Midwest, both Democrat and Republican, I might add to that. And I think the reality of this is every state has to look within its own border to see how it's affected. And Missouri's so diverse. You know, you've got Kansas City, St. Louis, both sitting there on the borders. And then you've got rural Missouri out there. So I think every governor will be challenged to how to reopen your state and what that's going to look like. And we're working on that today as we speak, actually.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. I mean, as you point out, Missouri is kind of unique because your two biggest metro areas spans state line. Kansas City crosses into Kansas. St. Louis crosses into Illinois. Do you feel like people in those metro areas need to be hearing the same thing from you and the Illinois governor, from you and the Kansas governor?

PARSON: Yeah. You know what? I don't necessarily know that that's exactly right because I think those - both those cities are used to that. I mean, they know the two difference of being - living on those state lines forever.

SHAPIRO: Missouri's stay-at-home order statewide is in effect through April 24. That's just nine days from now. Some other states have extended theirs through May, some even into June. Tell us your thinking about whether you'll extend the statewide order that's set to expire in nine days and how you'll make that decision, what it'll be based on.

PARSON: It'll be based on facts that we're receiving every day, you know, what are our rates doing, you know, what's our hospital looks like, what's the ICU beds, what's the ventilators look like and, really, how does it affect rural Missouri versus urban area. But I think what you'll see Missouri - and I think you could see that in the next several weeks - you'll have a phase approach. We'll probably open the state up for economics, probably different areas of the state at different times. Then we'll kind of loosen those restrictions up.

SHAPIRO: As I understand it, Missouri is doing about 3,000 COVID-19 tests a day. Is that really enough to determine whether it's safe to reopen the state or not?

PARSON: Well, you know, look, testing is going to be a big factor when you really, quote, "reopen the state" that I want to say where people start feeling they're safe again to go out and come back to some sort of normal life. But testing will be a big issue on that. And, no, 3,000 a day is not enough. We need to be able to do probably 40,000, 50,000 a day to really move the needle one way or the other. But I do think what we do know - what we believe we know from the federal side of it is those testings will become more and more available as time goes on. And I think in the next two or three weeks, you're going to see a tremendous difference in testing that's going to be done across the country, especially here in Missouri.

SHAPIRO: If your state is doing 3,000 tests a day and you say the need is for 40,000 to 50,000 tests a day, how can you even know what the landscape is in Missouri to make an educated decision on reopening this state?

PARSON: Well, I think you look at it - you look at the data to what's really real in your state. You know in the urban areas - we know that across the country in most of the larger urban areas there's much more risk. We now know that the African American population is being attacked more than - from the virus than we do other segments of the population. We didn't know that till just a couple weeks ago. So now is the time you start adjusting to that. And like what we did here in the St. Louis region, we knew that we needed to put resources up there - mobile testing sites, more testing kits to do that. But that's not happening in rural areas of the state. And those cases are not there, and they haven't been there. They're consistently not being there that we know of. There is the unknown factor to it. But the reality of it is people are not going to the hospital on certain segments of the state like they are in other portions of the state.

SHAPIRO: As you know, agriculture is also a major sector in Missouri, and this disease has disrupted the supply chain. I mean, we've seen images of farmers plowing millions of pounds of good vegetables back into the soil. The losses could be in the tens of billions of dollars. What measures can your state take to help farmers?

PARSON: Yeah. I think we're doing that every day. We're trying to figure out - one, we're trying to make sure we get that product here in the state of Missouri, we get it to be sold. You know, we're actually almost concerned on the other thing when you seen what happened at Smithfield, you know, people shutting down. We're concerned with that to try to make sure that those food processing plants stay open, that people keep working there and they feel safe to work there.

SHAPIRO: Smithfield is the pork processing plant that had an outbreak.

PARSON: Because the last thing you need is to be going through a food shortage with everything else going on. And we haven't had to worry about that till this point, but we sure don't need a shortage on it.

SHAPIRO: Governor, I'd like to ask you about elections because you postponed municipal elections from last week to June 2. And by then, it's likely that still many Missourians are going to have concerns about showing up to a polling place and voting in person. But Missouri only allows absentee voting in limited circumstances, such as incarceration or physical disability. Will you expand vote by mail for the June elections?

PARSON: Yeah, I would not. I mean, that's an issue that'd have to be done through the legislative process. I mean, you're talking about - everybody should have a say in that, and right now, the legislators are not here to be able to handle those issues. But that's a drastic change in the process. And I think without having due process, the legislators to be here to discuss that, should not be left up to just one individual to make that call.

SHAPIRO: Does that mean you're going to ask voters to make a choice between risking their lives and participating in the democratic process?

PARSON: I don't know if that's the case. I - you know, it's like any other place. I think you're going to be setting up, you continue to do social distancing and the things to keep people safe that we're doing currently. We know that that's going to be in place probably still in June. I would say some sort of that would be. But, look, we're a ways from that point yet. But, you know, the process has to go on. People got to have the ability to vote, and we'll just see. But to make that call as just a governor is not the right thing to do for the state.

SHAPIRO: In a press conference yesterday, you said that expanding absentee voting is a political issue, a Democrat-Republican issue. Does that mean that people should take your refusal to expand absentee voting statewide as a partisan move?

PARSON: Well, you know, people have to make that judgment on their own. You know, I - what I said is what I believe, you know? Everybody can maybe believe something different I guess if they want, by all means. But the reality is we all know what the underlining effect of this is. You know, we're using the coronavirus kind of to streamline that, but that message was out there before this ever happened. And the reality of it is it is an issue that - it's a political issue that people have been trying to push for some time.

SHAPIRO: Are you saying that Democrats are trying to use the coronavirus as a pretext for expanding voting access, which they were trying to do before this?

PARSON: Yeah. I think it's quite evident that the politics are involved in it, as I said from the beginning. So, you know, when you look at that, I think they're using that (unintelligible) for an example of that. The people of the country - the people of state might want that, but if they do, there's a process to go through that. And I just don't think any one individual should be out there making that call, you know. And plus, maybe that's not the right resource to use. Maybe that's not the answer. I don't know. I mean, this whole deal is going to change the way we approach things being in the public sector. So there may be different ways that we have to look at how we do that in the future. But I'm not - again, I think there's more politics behind that than I do the reality of it.

SHAPIRO: Gov. Mike Parson of Missouri, thanks so much for speaking with us today.

PARSON: All right. Thank you.

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