Governor Mike Parson owns this.
As of this writing, Missouri suffers the highest rate of new COVID-19 hospitalizations in America. It has the second-highest rate of new cases per capita. It has the fourth-highest rate of new deaths.
Joplin tops the list of all U.S. cities in the rates of both new cases and hospitalizations in the database maintained by the New York Times. And of the ten municipalities with the highest hospitalization rates, eight are from Missouri.
In Springfield, the fire chief last week employed the phrase “mass casualty event” to describe a recent rash of deaths, accompanied by a shortage of lifesaving medical equipment. The situation is so bad that the federal government deployed a surge team to the city.
Polk County — where Parson served as sheriff for twelve years — is listed as the sixth-hardest-hit county in the nation. The ravages of the virus — exacerbated by the lethal intersection of low vaccination rates and the spread of the delta variant — has hit quite close to home for Parson.
Even as he pretends it’s not a thing.
From Day One of the pandemic, Parson’s science denial and dereliction of duty have been among the most glaring of any governor in the nation. Were there a most-clueless award handed out, he might walk off with the trophy.
For now, Parson is getting his latest national attention for his most recent malfeasance. No sooner had the surge team hit the ground in Springfield, Parson donned his rhetorical overalls and shotgunned the following out from Twitter:
“I have directed our health department to tell the federal government that sending employees or agents door-to-door to compel vaccination would NOT be an effective OR welcome strategy in Missouri.”
Well, of course not. You keep your dang vaccines off our property, Mr. Know-It-All Federal Government.
Missourians haven’t been this proud since at least four weeks ago when this weak Gomer Pyle impersonator was telling federal law enforcement officials that they, too, were not welcome to enforce their gun laws in the sovereign state of Missouri.
Regarding door-to-door vaccinations, however, it should be noted that Parson’s spokesperson pathetically attempted to walk back his words after not finding an “untweet” button: “We do not have an email or message sent to the federal government regarding these efforts,” she told the Kansas City Star after he was spanked publicly by the White House.
But at least the story has stayed consistently pathetic. Consider just some of what Parson has either failed to do — or been among the last to do — among the nation’s governors with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the very earliest stages of the crisis on March 20, 2020 — eleven days after the first COVID-19 case was announced in Missouri — Parson cited “personal responsibility” as the answer. While other states were shutting down or enacting dramatic measures, Parson banned gatherings of more than ten people — churches and government events exempted — and emphasized he would not shut down businesses.
At about that time, Parson refused to order schools to shut down, even as virtually all other Midwestern governors were taking that very step. It took an action from state educators to make that happen, not Parson.
On April 1, 2020, with Missouri cases having spiked 600 percent in the previous week, the Star editorialized, “Parson’s hands-off attitude has made Missouri an outlier of inaction, too: Only Parson and three other governors — in Iowa, Nebraska and Tennessee — have failed to issue a statewide stay-at-home order, or a statewide order to close non-essential services, or a statewide school closure order.”
Here’s more from the Star:
“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 CDC 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.”
Later in May 2020, Missouri led the international news with the disgrace we called Party Covid, when thousands of drunk revelers at the Lake of the Ozarks ran amok, flaunting any and all social distancing. About the only public official not expressing outrage was Parson, who hid from the media all weekend.
Perhaps the signature moment of Parson’s ineptitude — his Gettysburg address for stupid people — came on July 14, 2020, when he offered up these mind-numbing words at the height of the pandemic’s rage:
“If you want to wear a dang mask, wear a mask.”
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported, “While his administration has encouraged mask-wearing, Parson has declined to issue an order requiring masks in public places.
“‘You don’t need government to tell you to wear a dang mask,’ Parson said to a cheering crowd over the weekend. His campaign posted pictures online of a maskless Parson interacting with the public.”
Slightly more than two months later, the proud anti-masker contracted COVID-19, along with his wife Teresa. Once again, this wasn’t a thing to Parson — at least not with respect to public policy — and he uttered not a word of contrition or leadership.
So it has gone throughout the pandemic, continuing to this day, the governor’s unawareness notwithstanding. One small example: Missouri doesn’t have a state health director. Since Dr. Randall Williams mercifully resigned three months ago — leaving a legacy limited to his fascination with the menstrual cycles of Missouri women — Parson hasn’t bothered with replacing him AS A HEALTH PANDEMIC RAGES ON!
The acting “director” is longtime GOP political insider Robert Knodell, who was serving as Parson’s deputy chief of staff. His main medical qualification: having gone to the doctor.
It says all you need to know about Parson that he would turn to a political operative and not a medical expert to run his health department during a once-in-a-century public health crisis. And so does this, also reported in the Star, last month:
“Parson, who for months has stressed the importance of personal responsibility in combating the virus, took issue with a reporter’s question toward the end of his afternoon press briefing.
“‘Do you feel any personal responsibility for the people who have been infected and don’t recover after you chose to reopen the state?’ asked KOMU reporter Caroline Dade.
“‘I don’t even know where you come up with that question of personal responsibility as governor of the state of Missouri when you’re talking about a virus,’ Parson replied. ‘That’s no different than the flu virus or do I feel guilty because we have car accidents and people die every day. No, I don’t feel guilty about that.’”
It doesn’t appear that anyone in the media bothered with a follow-up question about how that statement might square with Parson’s attempted victory lap last January during his State of the State speech. When things seemed under control, Parson somehow thought he was relevant to the story, unlike now. He rattled out a bunch of dubious claims to drive home how well the state had responded.
No matter. That nonsense aside, his speech will always be remembered for these revealing immortal words:
“Missouri has seen some difficult days in the past 200 years, from the Civil War, the Great Depression, women’s suffrage, civil rights to the COVID-19 crisis and countless other hardships, but through it all Missouri has prevailed.”
Like I said, Parson owns this thing.
Ray Hartmann founded the Riverfront Times in 1977. Contact him at [email protected] or catch him on Donnybrook at 7 p.m. on Thursdays on the Nine Network and St. Louis In the Know With Ray Hartmann from 9 to 11 p.m. Monday thru Friday on KTRS (550 AM).