JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — On April 3rd Governor Parson announced he would put a stay-at-home order in place on April 6th.
Many people thought he waited too long to take that step.
In our exclusive interview with the state’s top leader, he says he stands by his decision.
Governor, you have your supporters who feel you have handled this situation as good as you could to this point in time. You also have your critics who say by waiting until you did to issue the stay-at-home order, you put lives at risk. How do you feel about that?
Governor Mike Parson, said, “Yeah, I don’t think that’s the case. I know it’s easy to criticize when you’re going through crisis. I’ve been around long enough to realize that some people are gonna do that, but I think it’s important to realize that when we did our first order of social distancing where you could only have gatherings of ten people or you’re six feet apart, the one thing that’s important to realize is there were no exceptions, there were no essential businesses in that order when we first did that. And from that day forward, every day we’ve been out there telling people to stay at home, stay at home, stay at home. I mean, multiple occasions. Then when we changed the order, two weeks later we realized that one of the problems that was created by the stay-at-home order was people on the exemptions of essential businesses. We started pushing large groups of people to those businesses, and that was a problem that no one really realized was gonna happen. So w e were able to change that to work with the retailers across the state and frankly, the employees across the state. The main thing we’re wanting to do is keep people safe every day, so, you know, a lot of people can second guess. It’s easy to do that. But the reality is, I make those decisions every day and I’m doing the best I can for the people of this state and will continue to do that.”
For those that feel like your messaging, or your team’s messaging, regarding COVID-19 has not been complete, what do you say to those people?
“I think every day we’re about as transparent as we can be. We try to have the briefings out there. And what I try to focus on every day is to put real numbers out there that pertain to Missouri. We don’t use the national models out there, Frankly, I think, as we’ve found out across the United States, they’re not very reliable, they’re not very dependent, and frankly misleading. And a lot of people utilize them sometimes to make accusations about us in the states. But I’m telling you, every day what’s happening in Missouri. How many ICU beds we have, how many ventilators do we got, how many people are coming out of the hospitals, how many people are recovering, all the factual bases we can in the State of Missouri. That’s how I make decisions every day and I’m gonna make it on that. I’m gonna make it on what’s the data and what’s the facts in the state.”
As media members, we come after you wanting answers. We ask you questions on a daily basis. What kind of message do you think we’re putting out right now? Are we doing the job that we’re supposed to be doing?
“You know what, I think for the most part, most of the media outlets do. I really do. There are some out there, that I’ll save that for my own opinion for a later date, But I realize that most people out there are trying to do it. I think what happens is we get caught up on the national spin sometimes, and that gets very political. But I think what I like out of the Missouri, for the media, what I like them to do, is just tell the facts. Tell really what’s happening. Look at the Missouri numbers, and so you know how to inform the public out there, so they’re more comfortable starting the economy. Because if they hear doom and gloom every day, they’re gonna be hesitant about starting this economy back up, and we have to start looking down that road. And I think the media will play a big role in that. I think them knowing the facts. You know, knowing that 80 percent of the cases are in 15 areas in the state, of those counties, and the rest of them, the thirteen, twelve and a half percent, is in 90 counties. People need to know that, just for a little hope, for a little security. And I think it’s important that we put that out. So I think there is a role the media plays every day. And it’s the same thing, we’re having a briefing every day, to try and get as much information out there as we can, under the circumstances we’re at.”
Do you feel like any of this can be politicized?
“I think you see that every day. You know what, that’ll just have to work its way out, how people see that, you know, I mean a lot of it was the stay-at-home order. And then what you realize, is a lot of states jumped on that early, to do that, but then what you realize, is who is an essential business in Missouri and who are the people that have the power to decide that? So really, what happened for most of the time, is there was a group of bureaucrats or politicians that decided who is essential and who is not. And here’s the thing I really struggled with with that portion of it, for the every day person out there that goes to work, for the person that’s owned a business for 30 years, and when we think of businesses we think of bricks, mortar, glass, we kind of think of a business as not that relevant, but when you really think to the people inside the business, you know, most of them are essential people. And they thought their jobs were essential. But hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of people are on unemployment, to them and their families, they thought their jobs were essential. So I think it’s one of those roads, it’s a tough road to go down, but you gotta realize there’s consequences to whatever you do. But, at the end of the day, you’re not gonna make everbody happy. I realize that. But I’ll guarantee you one thing. I’ll put the people of this state forward and try to do the best I can as the governor of this state, making sure Missouri’s taken care of.”
I think it’s safe to say everybody was looking at these models as if they were black and white truth at the start because we didn’t have anything else to go with. What is your opinion of the models and how people should listen to them?
“I think within a week you’re going to be able to see a Missouri model that is strictly designed for our state. And then we’re really gonna have something to compare to, and I think you’re gonna see some experts from Wash U involved with that, some hospitals associations involved with that, some experts, the infectious disease people, are gonna be involved in this modeling. And you’re gonna see some real numbers. But they’re gonna be true numbers for the State of Missouri so the people will know, and I think again when you asked earlier, what does the media do, I think get those real numbers and let everyone know where this is at in the State of Missouri and I think that’s critical in moving from the COVID-19 to moving to bringing back the economy.”
What can you tell Missourians about the stay-at-home order right now, it goes to the 24th I believe, is there some way that we can move past this right now or are you at a point where you’re looking at these models that you say are not correct, where you can maybe give some hope?
“Yeah I think so, I think we’re looking at that now. We’re in the process right now, seeing how we’re gonna reopen Missouri. And when you look at the, lets say the 90 of the 114 counties in the State of Missouri, that are mainly third class counties, there’s only been five deaths, in those counties of those 90. The remainder of them are in the urban areas, the bigger counties. Which we know that’s where this goes to is in those areas because of the multitude of people that are together there. We know that. So you gotta be able to look at that data and realize that 87 percent of these cases are in 15 areas in the state. And 90 counties out there have less than twelve percent throughout all the counties. So that’s why when I say when you talk about Missouri, it’s one thing to be a mayor of a metropolitan area, which they have to make their decisions and their choices, but as the Governor, you have to take all that into consideration, how diverse Missouri is. So it’s just important that you analyze that and try to figure out, how are you gonna reopen the State of Missouri. Which we’re planning for that now. We’re literally planning to see how we’re gonna reopen this state. But I can tell you the one thing it’s gonna come down to, that’s essential, is the testing portion of it. People are gonna wanna feel safe to come back out and get into the economy and go back to work, and back where we need to go. But it’s gonna come down to testing in large numbers to be able to do that.”
How are we gonna get to that point of testing, Governor?
“I think one issue is supply and demand is gonna catch up with itself. I do believe some of the Abbot testing with some of the capsules that’s coming through the state, you’re gonna see some of that come online more towards the end of this month in the next couple weeks. I instructed Director Williams and Director Richardson earlier this week that I wanna double the capacity of the testing we’re doing now, so take those numbers from three or four thousand a day, up to the 8,000, 10,000 bracket, and I’d like to see that done in a week. And that’s using every resource we can, every possibility to get the equipment in to use it, and really just making that a priority because we gotta get that done to really reopen the State of Missouri.”
Can you see this happening by May 1st?
“Yeah, you know what, we’ll evaluate this just like we did before. Every day we’re looking at this. We’ll take another look on the 24th and decide, okay, are we gonna extend this, are we gonna open up part of the state, part of it not open, I mean, all those decisions will come. But I think the reality of it is, you have to really go with what’s happening in the State of Missouri. So I would just say sometime in may, let me just say this, sometime in May, we will start opening the state up. But I think again, I wanna make sure it’s clear, that testing will play a huge role in opening up the state again.”
How will that look like Governor? Is it possible to tell people right now opening it back up, cause I’m sure it has to be done slowly.
“Yeah, and it will, I’m saying right now what we’re looking at is phases. Like what portions would open up. And then you look at the unemployment numbers along with that, We know the service end of it is one of the main factors that need to come back online, because that’s where a lot of unemployment numbers are. Retail would fall underneath that and manufacturing. So all of those play a role in how we open this back up. And then again, you’re gonna have to have the confidence of the people out there to say okay, are we willing to go to a restaurant right now? Am I willing to take my family there in a crowded area? Or are we gonna see businesses do differently regulate how many people can be in those, square footage or in certain space. I think it’s gonna be a combination of things, but right now what I see is I think in May there’s gonna be a good chance to reopen part of the state.”
What about state government? What kind of plans?
“Yeah, I mean, the state government, we’re doing everything we can to make sure the state is functioning with all the departments there is, and we continue to work on that every day. I think the legislature is gonna see them come back, which I’m glad to see that. I think they need to be here right now in part of a crisis because every one of them represent a group of people and they deserve to be represented right now here in the State Capital more than ever. So, I’m glad to see the legislature coming back. But the government’s gonna keep working. The every day lives of people that are affecting government, whether it’s the childcare division, whether it’s the foster homes, whether it’s the prisons, whether it’s mental health, whether it’s the Department of Revenue, all of those are functioning things that have to be done daily, and we’re gonna continue to operate.”
Small businesses are taking a huge hit. Hourly wage workers are taking a huge hit. What kind of a message do you have for those people across the state? I have a friend who has a small business. He said Vick, if the state is shut down for business another two weeks, I’m done.
“Let me go back to what I originally said and I was one of those people, you’re talking about your friend with a small business, before. But you know, I get larger companies, and it can be devastating for them too and all that, but for the Mom and Pop, the small businesses, the heart and soul of our state, it has a tremendous effect. It has a tremendous effect on just cash-flow. How long can you sit on the sidelines as a small business owner and even be able to survive and open your doors back up again, so, everyday, I think of that. I think about the hundreds of thousands of people are on unemployment, but again, they felt like their jobs were essential and they wanna go back to work. And I gotta figure out a way to get them back to work. And I’m telling you, as a priority from the Governor’s office, I’m gonna figure out a way to get as many people back to work as soon as I can. And that’s gonna be a judgement call someday too. Someone’s gonna say it’s too early, someone’s gonna say it’s too late. But at the end of the day, I’m gonna take that data that I know and how do I feel like it’s safe enough to go back into the workforce and we’re gonna make those decisions. And we don’t got a lotta time to waste, let’s put it that way.”
The virus has hit the African-American community hard across the country, but it is specifically hit the St. Louis region in unbelievable numbers. Is there anything possible that you can do to address this, to help those people who are saying what’s going on? We’re not being taken care of.
“Most certainly, I don’t know if I have all the answers for that. When we first realized those numbers were spiking like they were and how much that was affecting that community, I think one, we’ve got five mobile testing sites up in that area now, more than we have anyplace in the state. Earlier this week I told Director Williams to say, look, we gotta get on that, we gotta get on top of it, and we sent more testing kits up there. But it’s a real problem, and I think it’s a little bit of an unknown problem why that virus is affecting that, and we’re not gonna know that for a while. But right now, it’s a matter of fact at hand, is hey, we gotta step up our game a little bit for the African American community, to make sure we’re taking care of them. So that’s exactly what we’re doing, and we’re putting a lot of resources up there from the state level what we can.”
I know you’re not in control of the sports aspect, but we’re home to the Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs. The NHL Champion St. Louis Blues. We’ve got Mizzou right in the middle, you know, the St. Louis Cardinals as good as anybody, what can you tell people about the sports aspect? I know you’re not Commissioner of all these leagues, but is there any hope?
“Yeah, you know what, I couldn’t help but think a little over a month ago we were thinking about having the Chiefs and the Blues at the Capital at the same time celebrating two national championships, a Super Bowl and Stanley Cup, but unfortunately things change. But on the sporty side, look, Missouri’s a sports state. We’re gonna figure out a way to be able to get those sports teams playing again and I think you will. I think one of the things when we called off schools here not too long ago, it wasn’t really so much about the finishing the year, it was about planning for the summer. Are we gonna have summer school? Are we gonna be able to meet the dates of going back in August? And the same way in the sporting arena. I think it’s gonna be when people will be comfortable enough to go back into a stadium setting, but I think you’re gonna see people wanna go back. They’re gonna wanna see major league sports. They’re gonna wanna see the new soccer stadium up there in St. Louis. They’re gonna wanna see the Royals’ new ownership put their team out there. So I mean, I think there’ll be that portion of it that will get back. We’re a great sports state and we’re gonna continue to be one, so I think before the end of the year you’re gonna see sports back, fully operational in Missouri.”
You’ve agreed to take some questions from around the state. Jason Simbrough from Kansas City, Missouri asks, “Do you intend on proposing any relief for renters during this pandemic?”
“Not that I know of at this point, I don’t know what they’re gonna do on the national level, but on the state level, look, it’s gonna be crunch time for everybody. I don’t care who you are as individuals, for government. You know, there’s not just gonna be a bucket load of money around to give out to anybody or help with that, right now.”
Jennifer Phillips from the Kansas City area asks, “Why are you refusing to allow voting by mail?”
“That’s a political issue totally right now, everyone’s putting a spin on. I think we’re way early to be talking about that. We’ll see how this unfolds the next 30 to 60 days, but I don’t think we’re at the point of doing that, nor am I very comfortable with that issue right now, trying to do that by mail, again, I think that’s a political spin on that. And there’s gonna be the national side of that where they’ll be trying to push that on the Democrat side, you’re probably gonna have the Republicans trying to resist that, so I just think we’re way early to be talking about that right now. We need to be focused, really, on the COVID-19 issue and the economy, is what we really need to be doing right now.”
Belinda Phillips from Independence, Missouri asks, “When will people be tested?”
“I think we’re a ways from that. I think for the every day person out there, I think to try and test 6 million people in Missouri, we’re a ways away from that, we’re months away from that, to be right honest about it. I think you have the testing portion and you have the vaccine. But those two things are gonna take place. But again, if we can get those numbers up to 40 or 50 thousand a day, you know, in the next two to three weeks or something, we start really increasing those numbers by significant, then I think that’s gonna be a little bit of a telltale story of how quick the economy can go back, and how quick people can go back to where they feel safe.”
Tara Graham from the St. Louis area asks, “What are we doing to protect our police [and healthcare workers[ and keeping them from bringing the virus home to their immuno-compromised children?”
“Early on we were addressing that issue, especially with the healthcare workers, and I’ll give southwest Missouri [as] an example. Early on, Missouri State, because we know the dorms were empty there, and we started allowing the people, the healthcare workers, to go there, to the dorms, instead of going home, because the reality is, the healthcare workers at the time didn’t want to go home, because they didn’t want to spread the virus to anyone either. Finding alternative locations for them to go was always important to us. We did that early on to make sure those opportunities were there. Other parts of the states have done that. I think for your first responders, your police, your fireman, those guys gotta answer the calls every day. That’s kind why we did the worker’s comp deal for them. That’s why we’re trying to provide the gear we can for them as soon as we can. The reality of it is, the supply is not there to meet the demand. But I’m just thankful for those first line employees on the healthcare side of it, the law enforcement, the first responders. But just as important is the grocers, guys that are working in grocery stores that just become tremendously important in this process, truck drivers going up and down the road, the convenience store people, the pharmaceutical side of it, the Walgreen’s of the world. People are going to work every day to make sure we have what we need at home, so every day I just see good people doing good things for fellow Missourians and I think that’s what a lot of it will come down to.”
Aaron Johnson from the St. Charles, Missouri area, asks “When will I be able to fully utilize my business?”
“I wish I could give the guy a date to that. But the reality of it is, we have to see how this plays out for a couple more weeks. I think those small businesses are gonna get to come back, I think May is gonna be a huge month to starting this economy up, but again, the one thing we have to do is we have to make sure we have the information we need to start it up. And where’s that segment of the state at. St. Louis region may be different than southwest Missouri. I don’t know that at the end of the day, but we’re gonna check that data every day and see how we open this back up.”
A final message for people across the state who are watching you tonight, looking for hope, wanting the truth, wanting to know what’s next.
“Let me just say this: Missouri’s gone through tough times before, as we look back at the history of the state, all of us. Through our families that have met different challenges in their life. We’re meeting ours now that will change us. But in the end, it’ll change us for the better. But I guarantee you we’ll get through this. The one thing I know about Missouri: the work ethic here is second to none. People are gonna work hard, and at the end of the day, I do believe that most Missourians are gonna do what they’re asked to do to make this better and to get over this COVID-19, and the sooner we do that, and we’re doing that right now as you see it all over the state. Every day, I see Missourians doing what they’re asked to do. Once we get past this virus, once we find some answers to that, Missouri will be stronger than ever. I’m telling you: hang on. We’re going to be okay. We are gonna be okay. We will. We’ll look back on this and we’ll learn from it, but right now just hang onto the hope and keep the faith. Keep the faith because we’re gonna get over this.”