Governor's office won't disclose number of infected staffers
ST. LOUIS — As Missouri Gov. Mike Parson continues to recover from the coronavirus, his office is declining to say how many members of his staff also have tested positive.
Parson's spokeswoman, Kelli Jones, has not responded to several requests for information on staff illnesses, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Friday. Jones did not immediately respond to an inquiry from The Associated Press.
The decision not to provide information on illnesses within the office differs from the practice of other state agencies that have routinely reported virus cases since the pandemic began. For example, the Missouri Department of Corrections has reported 613 positive tests among employees since the onset of the pandemic, and the Department of Mental Health says 384 workers have tested positive, with four deaths.
An estimated three dozen people work closely with the Republican governor. Parson and his wife, Teresa, tested positive on Sept. 23. Neither has developed serious symptoms.
Parson's office earlier confirmed a number of staffers on his team were in quarantine and working from home after the Parsons' positive tests.
Meanwhile, Missouri leaders were still declining to impose new restrictions or mandate masks, even as the state remained in the White House Coronavirus Task Force's "red zone."
Missouri's rate of new COVID-19 cases and percentage of positive test results were among the highest in the U.S. for September, the Post-Dispatch reported. The federal task force warned that those numbers put Missouri in a vulnerable position heading into the fall and winter.
Hospitalizations in Missouri for COVID-19 rose by 29% in September to their highest levels during the pandemic, with the surge occurring largely in rural areas and mid-sized cities.
"Institute mask requirements in counties with ongoing transmission; reduce capacity for indoor dining and bars while expanding outdoor dining options," the latest task force report, dated Sept. 27, advised.
Missouri has had no statewide restrictions since June 15.
Parson said in a livestreamed news conference this week that his staff is continuing to focus on what he calls "four pillars." They are: increasing testing, having enough protective equipment for health workers, making sure hospitals do not reach capacity and providing transparent data.
"I want to reassure everyone that all four of these pillars are stable. We monitor this every day, and we are constantly working to improve. The fight is not over, but we are on the right track, and we will get through this," Parson said.
Meanwhile, Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Human Services, told the Post-Dispatch that because of the state's diversity, government officials are letting local leaders decide when to implement restrictions rather than enacting statewide benchmarks.
Missouri on Friday reported 1,485 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus, bringing the total to 129,397 since the pandemic began. The state also reported 16 new deaths, bringing the total to 2,144.