Gov. Mike Parson on Thursday urged Missourians to change the way they celebrate the holidays this year with a rise in COVID-19 cases pushing hospitals closer to crisis. At the same time, Parson made clear he won’t force any changes.
“With the holidays coming, it’s up to us — not government, but me and you — to change the way we do Thanksgivings,” he said in a press conference. “And I would recommend that. My own family’s Thanksgiving will not look the same as it has in years past.”
“My in-laws are in their 80s, they both have underlying health conditions, and my family won’t expose them to the possibility of COVID-19 when we don’t have to.”
State health director Randall Williams said Missourians could keep themselves safe by self-quarantining before traveling to a gathering, meeting outside where possible and wearing masks.
Williams also said that people should avoid gatherings altogether the moment they detect coronavirus-related symptoms, which include fever, coughing and loss of taste and smell.
“You’ve got to be willing to change your plans if you become symptomatic,” he said. “You have to be much more thoughtful about Thanksgiving than you’ve ever been.”
Experts have long feared holiday gatherings amid the pandemic because of their potential to bring multiple generations of people — including especially vulnerable seniors — together in a setting where close contact is the norm.
The gatherings are also coming at a difficult time, with Missouri and the Midwest taking the brunt of a national surge right now. Vaccines are coming, but they won’t be available to most people until next year.
“At this very moment in time, your risk of getting COVID-19 is the highest it’s been,” Williams said.
However, along with the warnings, Parson made clear he will not mandate precautions.
“Your private residence is your private residence,” Parson said. “Government has no business going to the front doors of your homes to decide how many people are there and how many are not.”
Parson also rejected the latest plea for a statewide mask mandate from hospital leaders, who said last week they need help to keep from being overwhelmed amid the surge.
Research suggests mandates helped slow new caseload growth elsewhere, and more than 30 other states have some form of one in place, including newcomer red states Iowa and North Dakota.
A break in cases would be welcome here: On average, Missouri is reporting more than twice as many new cases and hospitalizations each day than it was two months ago.
But while Parson acknowledged hospital capacity “is becoming a problem,” he said he still thinks local governments should make the calls on mandates and that ultimately, people will have to take personal responsibility to flatten the curve.
He said his administration is looking at other ways to help hospitals, including sending the National Guard to bolster staffing.
Parson said the state would also issue a “public health warning” later Thursday with guidance for local officials on the situation in their areas.
“We’re going to encourage them to take some sort of action,” he said. “But at the end of the day, as many people out there as would like to say it’s government’s responsibility, it’s not.”
“It’s our responsibility as citizens of this great state to take it upon ourselves to do the right thing,” he added.
In that same vein, Parson reiterated that he will not require people to get a vaccine when one is available.
Missouri has recorded just over 288,000 COVID-19 cases and nearly 3,600 deaths from the virus since the beginning of the crisis, according to data gathered from the state and its local health departments by the New York Times.
The state has had the 20th-most cases per resident and 28th-most deaths per resident among the 50 states and Washington, D.C., according to data from the state and the The Atlantic’s COVID Tracking Project.
Austin Huguelet is the News-Leader’s politics reporter. Got something he should know? Have a question? Call him at 417-403-8096 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.