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White House Coronavirus Task Force Once Again Urges A Missouri Statewide Mask Mandate

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson talks with team members at ReDiscover Mental Health Service on Aug. 27.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson talks with team members at ReDiscover Mental Health Service on Aug. 27.

The White House Coronavirus Task Force is reiterating its guidance for a Missouri statewide mask mandate to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“Establish statewide mask mandate,” the latest report said. “...Arkansas is a great example in the Heartland where statewide transmission has decreased through mask usage.”

This isn’t the first guidance from the White House urging Missouri Governor Mike Parson to issue a state mandate. The recommendations were obtained by KCUR through a records request. The report is dated September 13 but wasn’t delivered to the state until September 15, according to the attorney who handles records requests for the governor.

The data in the briefing is drawn from the second week in September, in which Missouri had the fourth-highest rate of new cases by population in the country. Missouri saw 146 new cases per 100,000 people — about double the national average. Roughly two-thirds of Missouri counties had “moderate or high levels of community transmission,” according to the report.

At a stop in Kansas City Monday, Parson repeated his opposition to a statewide order, saying local governments are best positioned to decide if a mask mandate makes sense.

“From day one we’ve talked about everybody should be wearing a mask,” Parson said. “We’ve talked about social distancing. We’ve been talking about personal hygiene.”

Parson emphasized that the White House report is simply guidance.

“This state is so diverse. No matter where you live in this [state], it affects the cities, the urban areas a lot different than it does Douglas County, Missouri, or Carter County, Missouri,” Parson said. “And for me, I have to take a balanced approach to it.”

The White House repeats recommendation

The call for statewide masking isn’t new.

An August 16 task force document also recommended Parson implement a statewide mandate, according to the Springfield News-Leader.

The following week the task force suggested Missouri implement an approach similar to Texas where any county with 20 “active” cases had a mask order, according to the Springfield paper.

The Missouri State Medical Association and the Missouri Nurses Association asked Parson July 10 to implement a statewide mask order.

“Mask use is an integral part of reducing transmission and keeping our economy moving forward,” the letter states.

Kansas City, Jackson County, Columbia, Clay County and St. Louis and St. Louis County are among the locations in Missouri requiring a mask.

“We've seen a decline [in cases] in Kansas City, Missouri. We're proud of that,” Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said. “We think that speaks to the strength of the mask requirements. We think that speaks to the responsibility of Kansas Citians.”

The mid-September White House recommendations include testing campus wastewater for the virus. This helps show how widespread COVID-19 infections are and identify “areas with high viral load” which can then be used to target areas where testing is needed.

The suggestions also include improving “infection control practices” at nursing homes. According to the task force, during the week of August 31 to September 6, about one in ten nursing homes had “at least one new resident COVID-19 case.”

The report also endorses weekly surveillance testing among “critical populations” like K-12 teachers, nursing home staff, prison staff and first responders.

The document mentions limiting capacity at bars and indoor dining in locations with “ongoing high levels of transmission.” This includes Kansas City and Jackson, Clay and Cass counties.

Kansas City does not have capacity limits for restaurants, but bars are capped at 50% occupancy. Aprevious White House report from the first week of September said bars “must be closed” along with an indoor dining capacity limit of 50% for Kansas City. The latest report doesn’t mention bar closures.

“We are not seeing huge outbreaks and spikes from our bars and taverns,” Lucas said. “... If we see some change in that … if we see spikes, then that would be something we address.”

You can read the full report here: White House Coronavirus Task Force Missouri Report, September 13, 2020.

Aviva Okeson-Haberman, Lisa Rodriguez and Lucas Cuni-Mertz are reporters at KCUR 89.3, an NPR member station in Kansas City.

Copyright 2020 KCUR 89.3. To see more, visit KCUR.org

When Aviva first got into radio reporting, she didn’t expect to ride on the back of a Harley. But she’ll do just about anything to get good nat sounds. Aviva has profiled a biker who is still riding after losing his right arm and leg in a crash more than a decade ago, talked to prisoners about delivering end-of-life care in the prison’s hospice care unit and crisscrossed Mid-Missouri interviewing caregivers about life caring for someone with autism. Her investigation into Missouri’s elder abuse hotline led to an investigation by the state’s attorney general. As KCUR’s Missouri government and state politics reporter, Aviva focuses on turning complicated policy and political jargon into driveway moments.
Lisa Rodriguez
Lisa Rodriguez is an Community Engagement intern.
Lucas Cuni-Mertz