Missouri Gov. Mike Parson has a lot to say right now.
Every day for more than a week, he’s been appearing outside his office offering updates on the coronavirus and answering questions from reporters.
It’s a lot almost every time. Parson has given updates on confirmed cases and deaths, issued various orders and had directors talk about their efforts to deal with the crisis, whether through looser regulations or very large purchases of protective equipment.
He’s said and done a few things that have really stood out, though.
Here’s a rundown.
1. He thinks urban and rural Missouri need different approaches
Perhaps the most notable part of Parson’s approach has been his resistance to statewide restrictions to slow the spread of the virus.
Unlike governors in other states, he let each of Missouri’s more than 500 school districts and charter schools decide when to close to students.
And while the state’s major cities all banned gatherings of more than 10 people and ended eat-in restaurant dining early last week, Parson resisted taking the idea statewide for days until this past weekend.
The message was clear: He thinks urban and rural Missouri need different responses.
“It is much harder to go into a rural community and start mandating businesses to shut down when they don’t have the infrastructure, the resources or the plan in place that an urban area does,” he said in one press conference.
He gave an example with schools.
"If you go to rural Missouri, for example, there's no day care services there, so when you shut a school down there that creates problems itself,” he said.
He’s taken some heat for that.
State Auditor Nicole Galloway, a Democrat running against him for governor this year, said last week he was creating an unhelpful patchwork rather than showing clear leadership.
And more recently, groups of doctors, surgeons, nurses, public health officials and hospital leaders have urged Parson to expand local stay-at-home orders statewide to protect the health care system.
Their logic is fairly straightforward. The point of all the restrictions is to slow infection rates so hospitals aren’t overwhelmed, and they say forcing people to stay at home and closing most businesses are what it’s going to take now.
Also, because Cox and Mercy serve wide swathes of southwest Missouri, they need those orders to cover more than just Springfield and its suburbs to reach the best possible outcome.
Parson isn’t biting, yet.
On Monday, he said he worried about what stay-at-home orders would do to the economy, even though many major businesses are in urban areas with the strictest rules.
“When you start talking about shutting the state down for 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, the effect that has on everyday people is tremendous,” Parson said. “It means businesses will close. People will lose their jobs. The economy will be in worse shape than ever.”
He also said he wanted to make sure “all of Missouri has an input on this, whether it’s urban Missouri or rural Missouri.”
And on Wednesday, as the number of confirmed cases in Missouri passed 300, he continued to stand by his order limiting people to gatherings of 10 or less.
“I definitely believe that that order is the right thing to do right now for the state of Missouri. I think if people will abide by that rule, it's going to help us get away from this virus and make people safer,” he said.
2. He’s worried about the budget
Parson has been less sure about the $30 billion state budget.
In January, he unveiled a plan for the fiscal year starting July 1 that included boosts for K-12 education, money to help counties with the jail costs, and plans to create a $100 million savings account to help steady the state in emergencies.
And even as late as a few weeks ago, his budget director was brushing off concerns that a recession might hit the state’s finances.
But since then, the stock market has crashed, thousands of businesses have been put on the ropes and economists have projected millions on the unemployment lines.
“There is no doubt the original budget we proposed is going to change drastically,” Parson said Tuesday. “Many, many changes will have to be made."
He didn’t elaborate on what those major changes might be, but he was clear he doesn’t see things getting better in a hurry, either.
“The economy’s going to continue to slide until we get on top of this virus that’s out there,” he said.
Top budget writers are on the same page.
Sen. Dan Hegeman, who heads his chamber's appropriations committee, noted that revenues so far this year still look relatively good. But he said that by the time they start reflecting the damage, it's likely the economy will be headed into a recession.
He, too, was coy about what areas of the budget could be cut, but he said the new proposals in Parson's budget will likely need to be "reevaluated."
"I think everyone would agree that the measures around COVID-19 will impact our economy," he said, "and that will need to be factored into the budget. How we go about that, that'll be a discussion between the House, Senate and the governor's office."
3. Unlike Trump, he's not predicting a quick fix
President Donald Trump, Parson's fellow Republican, said Tuesday that coronavirus shutdowns could be lifted "very soon" and that he wanted the country "opened up" and "raring to go by Easter," which falls on April 12 this year.
That timeline falls well short of what experts say is necessary to prevent the worst of the virus, though, and Parson had a different take Tuesday afternoon.
He was careful to say that he hoped the president, who has endorsed his bid for a full, four-year term as governor, turns out to be right.
"But the reality of it is," he said Tuesday, "we’re planning this much longer than two weeks here in the state of Missouri."
"We all know that we believe that this is gonna continue for some time,” he added.
That was no surprise given previous statements.
"We've got a lot of days we gotta go through," he said Friday. "Look, this is just the beginning. We're two or three months, at a bare minimum, that we're going to have to deal with this issue."
And on Wednesday, he offered perhaps the most realistic assessment.
"I know people want to know, when is this going to end?" he said. "But as much as we all wish there was an answer, I can't tell you when this is going to end."