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Missouri Gov. Parson issues stay-at-home order to combat COVID-19

Missouri Gov. Michael Parson talks with Airmen assigned to the 139th Airlift Wing, Missouri Air National Guard, at Rosecrans Air National Guard Base, St. Joseph, Mo., Aug. 14, 2018. Parson, who is the commander in chief of the Missouri National Guard, met with Airmen as part of a base tour. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Michael Crane)

After weeks of resisting calls to issue a statewide stay-at-home order, Gov. Mike Parson reversed course on Friday and called for Missourians to remain home for the next three weeks, starting on Monday.

“We must continue to control, contain and fight this virus,” Parson said.

He said his order will “provide a clear framework to allow businesses to operate, but they’ll have to follow the social distancing measures that this order provides.”

Missourians will not be prohibited from accessing essential services, such as grocery stores, gas stations, and banks, or engaging in outdoor recreation. Schools will also remain closed during the duration of the order.

But under Parson’s order, even businesses that are deemed non-essential can remain open as long as they adhere to certain social distancing requirements, such as having few than 10 people gathered at a time. And those businesses can still seek a waiver from the Missouri Department of Economic Development to allow it to violate those social distancing requirements.

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However, the order does not supersede local orders or restrictions on businesses that are already in place or that are put in place in the future.

“There comes a time when we have to make major sacrifices in our lives. Many of us make sacrifices each and every day, but now more than ever, we must all make sacrifices,” he said.

The governor had been criticized both in Missouri and nationally for refusing to follow the lead of other governors and issue a statewide order.

Leading the charge in pleading with Parson to take action over the last few weeks have been a litany of health care organizations, including the Missouri State Medical Association, Missouri Nurses Association, the Association of Missouri Nurse Practitioners, the Missouri Association of Nurse Anesthetists, the Missouri Center for Public Health Excellence, and the Missouri chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Going into Friday, Missouri was one of only 10 states without a stay-at-home order.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly issued an order last week, allowing people to leave their homes only to get food, medicine or other household necessities; receive medical care; take care of other household members in another location; and to exercise. Businesses performing essential functions were also allowed to continue to operate through the stay-at-home order.

The state’s urban centers, led by Kansas City and St. Louis, issued their own stay-at-home orders weeks ago. In recent days, small counties — some with no coronavirus cases or just a few — have followed suit.

State Auditor Nicole Galloway, Parson’s likely Democratic opponent in November, joined the call for a statewide order in Missouri on Tuesday. Parson’s refusal to issue an order inspired the nonpartisan Cook Political Report to downgrade his chances for winning a full four-year term this fall, changing their ranking of the Missouri governor’s race from “solid Republican” to “likely Republican.”

Parson has argued that a one-size-fits all approach wouldn’t work in Missouri, highlighting the difference between urban and rural communities around the state. He also stressed that a statewide order could further damage to the state’s economy.

A visibly frustrated Parson spent the first portion of his Friday evening press conference defending his administration’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak, specifically pointing to his March 21 order banning gatherings of 10 or more people.

And he questioned whether it was appropriate for the governor to determine who is essential and who is not.

He even went so far as to question the wisdom of government leaders who quickly issued stay-at-home orders, saying they did so without considering the consequences.

“This state is made up of winners,” he said. “And to win this battle, it’s going to take each one of us doing our part and putting out our best.”

State Sen. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City, noted that medical organizations began calling on Parson to issue an order on March 23. In the intervening weeks, more than 1,500 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Missouri, she said.

“As more and more doctors and nurses came forward asking for a statewide stay-at-home order, it became clear just how unacceptable inaction was. Thankfully, a statewide stay-at-home order will finally be issued,” she said.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas praised the governor for finally heeding the call to issue a statewide order.

“I am delighted that he is taking this step and made this move,” Lucas told The Star. “I think it’s important. I think it’s vital. I’m glad that he has joined the prevailing number of governors throughout our country in issuing this order, so I will just say that.”

While he said he wishes Parson had acted more quickly, Lucas believes the governor’s decision will save lives.

“I think it will make a difference,” he said. “I think it’s fair to say that I would have liked to see it issued even earlier, and I think it could have started making a difference earlier. But you know, I want to look to the future, and I’m glad the governor is taking this step today because it will save lives in the future.”

Dan Mehan, president of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said Parson’s order “strikes a balance between the need to act to combat this public health crisis while also establishing safe, achievable practices to ensure that Missouri stays open for business.”

Parson’s decision on Friday may not be as popular with some members of his own party who have suspicious of any push to enact a statewide order.

Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina, previously vocalized her opposition to a stay at home order in a now deleted Facebook post, where she said she was grateful for Parson’s decision not to go into “the ‘shut everyone down’ mode.”

In a statement to The Star before Parson issued his new executive order, O’Laughlin said some of the responses to COVID-19 have been induced by fear and panic.

“I believe people have been driven to a near state of panic by the consistently negative reporting on COVID-19,” she said. “The response to the COVID-19 outbreak is largely driven by fear and a fearful public has a harder time maintaining a positive outlook. We need to understand that we will overcome this as we have other challenges.”

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©2020 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.