KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For months now, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson has preached personal responsibility when it comes to stopping the spread of COVID-19 in the state.
He cited personal responsibility in reopening the state May 4 around the same time hospitalizations in Missouri spiked in early May, again in lifting all statewide restrictions effective June 15, again last month in deciding not to issue a statewide mask mandate amid a renewed surge in new COVID-19 cases and at virtually every press briefing he’s given during the last four months from Jefferson City.
Yet, when Parson has been out and about in the state, he’s seldom spotted wearing a mask himself.
“The whole thing is people are going to have to take that responsibility on themselves,” Parson said. “I’ve worn a mask when I’ve been asked to wear a mask. When there’s a requirement to wear a mask, I wear a mask.”
However, Parson added that he doesn’t wear one when he thinks he’ll be able to maintain social distancing — even when he acknowledges that is difficult since people often approach him in public.
“Am I going to be perfect about it, no?” Parson said.
Great day celebrating our country in Southwest Missouri at the Marshfield Independence Day Parade! 🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/tznH1vTjnE— Mike Parson (@mikeparson) July 4, 2020
As a farmer myself, I know how hard our Missouri farm families work each and every day.— Mike Parson (@mikeparson) July 10, 2020
I am proud to work with @MOAGBIZ to ensure that the agriculture industry remains strong in our state. pic.twitter.com/5Ut7tdPasW
There is nothing like being in a room full of cattlemen and women.— Mike Parson (@mikeparson) July 12, 2020
These folks know what it means to work hard each and every day to put food on our tables.
It’s an honor to be endorsed by @MoCattle. pic.twitter.com/P4YxyjnNgo
“I think I was socially distancing,” Parson said when asked about pictures posted to his social media page that show he meeting with constituents. “I think everywhere I go, I try to keep in mind the social distancing part of it.”
But as far as wearing the mask, Parson made it clear that it’s a choice he’s made not to wear one despite advice from medical experts.
“It’s just a choice you’ve got to make,” Parson said. “The one thing I know when I go to an event like that, I’m not going to stand there for 10 minutes or 5 minutes and talk to anybody. Somebody’s going to come up and say something then I’m going to be able to separate from them pretty quick.”
He said he’s mindful of which way people’s faces are pointed and that his security detail and staff keeps “cleanser with them.”
But Parson denied that his choice not to wear a mask in public in any way contradicts the drum beat of his personal responsibility message.
“I’ve been pretty clear the whole time on the mandating of masks,” Parson said. “I know this mask is a political hot-button now nationally and in the state. If you feel comfortable wearing a mask, you need to wear a mask. By all means, do that. I’m not out there in the thick of a crowd for any time whatsoever.”
He stressed that many counties don’t have many COVID-19 cases, which is part of why he won’t make any statewide mandates.
Health experts, including guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stress that wearing a mask is primarily about preventing the wearer from spreading by the virus and that wide adoption of masks is key to reducing the pandemic’s spread.