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William Skipworth
By William Skipworth October 6, 2020

Most high-risk counties in Missouri don’t have mask mandates, despite Parson’s claim

If Your Time is short

  • Parson has strongly resisted imposing a statewide mask mandate.

  • Many counties designated by the White House Coronavirus Task Force as “red zones,” the most severe rating possible, have no mask mandate.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been under fire lately after he and his wife tested positive for the virus on Sept. 23.

His Democratic opponent, Nicole Galloway, has criticized his refusal to impose a statewide mandate requiring Missourians to wear a face mask in public, something Parson has claimed is unnecessary outside the major cities. He’s opted instead to encourage masks.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintains that wearing a mask is a proven way to slow the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

In an Aug. 18 press conference, Parson said: "All Missouri’s high-risk areas have mask mandates in place." He repeated the claim two days later. 

We don’t have a great idea of what he meant by high risk. However, many of the counties and municipalities in the state that don’t have mask mandates have been deemed "red zones" — the most severe rating — by the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

Mandate-less counties in the red zone

The White House Coronavirus Task Force regularly sends reports to governors about the current state of the pandemic. While those are not publicly released, journalists have obtained several of them over the past few months.

In its Aug. 9 report, issued nine days before Parson's press conference, the task force categorized 15 Missouri counties in the "red zone" due to their high amounts of new cases, their increasing positivity rates — the percentage of tests that come back positive — and other data. 

We examined health department websites and media archives for each county to see whether a mask mandate was reported. Of those 15 counties, 12 did not list any mask mandate or expressly stated there was no mask order. Taney, Nodoway and Newton counties had mandates.

The red zones have grown since Parson’s comment. The task force’s Aug. 30 report, issued 12 days after the press conference, categorized 32 Missouri counties in the "red zone," 28 of which did not and still do not have mask mandates in the county.

The outlook has gotten worse since then. In the most recently released report dated Sept. 27, the task force listed 48 different counties in the "red zone." Of those, 42 counties had no mandates.

These "red-zone" counties without a mask mandate range from suburban areas such as Jefferson County outside of St. Louis to mid-sized cities like Joplin in Newton and Jasper counties to rural areas such as Miller County.

Featured Fact-check

Are "high-risk" and "red zone" the same?

A representative from Parson’s office, Kelli Jones, declined to comment on what exactly the governor meant by "high-risk."

She instead provided a statement that said, "Governor Parson has encouraged, recommended, and reminded every Missourian to social distance, wear a mask, and wash his or her hands to protect themselves and others, no matter where they live."

Red is the most severe of the five ratings the task force gives out — the ratings are red, orange, yellow, light green and dark green.

"The red indicates it’s an alarming upsurge in cases," said public health expert Lynelle Phillips. "They’re definitely going in the wrong direction."

Phillips is a professor at the University of Missouri School of Health Professions and a former public health advisor to the CDC. She is also vice president of the Missouri State Public Health Association.

Phillips said that when assessing the COVID-19 risk of an area, the most important factors to look at are the number of new cases per 100,000 people, the positivity rate and the weekly changes in those two numbers. Counties in the red zone all have more than 100 new cases per 100,000 residents and a 0.6% or more increase in test positivity.

"The areas that are experiencing an upsurge in cases right now do not have a local mask mandate," Phillips said.

She said that the areas with a mask mandate are doing better than those without. She noted how Saint Louis and Kansas City have moved to the yellow and orange zones respectively in the Sept. 27 report.

She pointed out that in Columbia — which enacted a mandate in July — and other cities with mandates, people are now used to wearing a mask.

In all three of the reports we mentioned and several of its other reports, the White House Coronavirus Task Force recommended Missouri enact a state-level mask mandate of some kind.

Our ruling

Parson said in August: "All Missouri’s high-risk areas have mask mandates in place."

It was not true when he made the claim in mid-August, and it is not true now. At the time, 12 of the 15 highest risk counties in the state had no mandates. The trend continues. We rate Parson’s statement False.

Our Sources

Mike Parson, Statement Regarding Governor and First Lady Parson COVID-19 Test Results, Sept. 23, 2020

Nicole Galloway, Tweet, Aug. 20, 2020

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Considerations for Wearing Masks, Aug. 7, 2020

Mike Parson and Deborah Birx’s Press Conference, Aug. 17, 2020

Mike Parson on Facebook, Aug. 20, 2020

White House Coronavirus Task Force Weekly Report, Aug. 9, 2020

White House Coronavirus Task Force Weekly Report, Aug. 30, 2020

White House Coronavirus Task Force Weekly Report, Sept. 27, 2020

Taney County Health Department Website, July 28, 2020

City of Columbia, Mask Ordinance FAQ, July 6, 2020

City of Maryville, Face Covering Ordinance, July 22, 2020

The Joplin Globe, Joplin City Council rescinds mask ordinance, advances recovery plan, Aug. 17, 2020

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Another day, another record for new cases in Missouri — now a federal 'red zone', July 30, 2020

McDonald County Health Department, Oct. 5, 2020

Dunklin County Health Department, Oct. 5, 2020

City of Sikeston, CITY OF SIKESTON COVID-19 RESPONSE, April 30, 2020

Scott County Health Department, Oct. 6, 2020

New Madrid County, Oct. 6, 2020

KTVI Fox 2, New study shows impact of mask mandate on COVID-19 spread in St. Louis region, Aug. 28, 2020

Pemiscot County Health Center, Oct. 6, 2020

Wayne County Health Center, Oct. 6, 2020

PikeCountyHealth.org, Pike County Health Department Updates COVID-19 Dashboard, Aug. 21, 2020

Facebook, Lewis County Health Department, Oct. 6, 2020

Knox County Health Department and Home Health Agency, Oct. 6, 2020

SpringfieldMo.gov, Masking Ordinance, July 8, 2020

KMOV4, Jefferson County abruptly overturns mask mandate, Aug. 29, 2020

WGEM, Hannibal doctors talk COVID-19 after recommendations for Missouri bar closures, mask mandate, Sept. 3, 2020

KTVI Fox 2, COVID cases spike in Lincoln County, still no mask mandate, Sept. 14, 2020

Lake News Online, Camden County Commission confirms no plans to implement mask ordinance, Aug. 14, 2020

KTVI Fox 2, People who don’t want to wear masks win in Washington, Missouri, Aug. 19, 2020

Washington County, Oct. 6, 2020

KTVI Fox 2, Perry County post warning on Facebook to help stop the spread of Covid-19, June 30, 2020

The Associated Press, Southeast Missouri counties seeing high number of cases, Sept. 22, 2020

KOMU8, Missouri doesn't follow White House Task Force mask recommendation, Sept. 28. 2020

Crawford County Health Department, Oct. 6, 2020

Mississippi County Health Department, Oct. 6, 2020

Madison County Health Department, Oct. 6, 2020

Monroe County Health Department, Oct. 6, 2020

WGEM, Health officials encourage COVID-19 community testing sign-ups for Northeast Missouri residents, Sept. 14, 2020

Dexter Statesman, Stoddard County confirms 17 new cases of COVID-19, updated community breakdown released, Oct. 2, 2020

Howard County Public Health Department, LATEST GUIDANCE FROM CDC ON WEARING MASKS, May 7, 2020

Gasconade County Republican, Miskel: county mask mandate unlikely, July 29, 2020

Bollinger County Health Center, COVID-19 INFORMATION AND UPDATES, Oct. 6, 2020

Ste. Genevieve County Health Department, Coronavirus Disease 2019, Oct. 6, 2020

KQ2, Andrew Co. Health Department Urges People To Follow Social Distancing Guidelines, July 2, 2020

Hickory County Health Department, Hickory County Covid-19 Report, Oct. 6, 2020

Facebook, Oregon County Health Department, Oct. 6, 2020

Sullivan County Health Department, Oct. 6, 2020

Barton County Health Department and Home Health Agency, Oct. 6, 2020

City of St. Joseph, Face Covering Declaration and Order, July 10, 2020

KSIS Radio, Pettis County Health Center Issues Emergency Rule, Aug. 6, 2020

Lafayette County Health Department, Public Health Order, Aug. 6, 2020

Christian County Headliner, Face mask mandate fails to pass in Ozark, Aug. 17, 2020

ABC17, Cole County, Jefferson City leaders push personal responsibility as COVID-19 cases climb, Aug. 12, 2020

Daily Star Journal, Johnson County Face Covering Order amended and extended, July 23, 2020

Springfield News-Leader, Marshfield aldermen are considering a mask mandate. Here’s how to weigh in, Sept. 8, 2020

Ozark Radio News, City of West Plains releases proposed mask ordinance, Aug. 12, 2020

Laclede Record, Mayor: Mask mandate not constitutional, July 14, 2020

Butler County Health Department, Oct. 6, 2020

Pulaski County Health Center and Home Health Agency, COVID-19, Oct. 6, 2020

Lawrence County Health Department, Coronavirus, Oct. 6, 2020

Wright County Health Department, Coronavirus (COVID-19) Information, Oct. 6, 2020

Texas County Health Department, Oct. 6, 2020

Boonville Daily News, Cooper Health Center: Mask order unlikely for county, July 31, 2020

Benton County Health Department, Information on COVID-19, Oct. 6, 2020

Stone County Health Department, Coronavirus (COVID-19), Oct. 6, 2020

Livingston County Health Center, Coronavirus Orders for Livingston County Missouri, Oct. 6, 2020

Moniteau County Health Center, Community Masks, Oct. 6, 2020

Grundy County Health Department, Coronavirus Info, Oct. 6, 2020

Facebook, Dent County Health Center, Oct. 6, 2020

Ozark County Health Department, Oct. 6, 2020

Daviess County Health Department, Oct. 6, 2020

Douglas County Health Department, COVID-19, Oct. 6, 2020

Ripley County Health Department, Oct. 6, 2020

Carter County Health, Oct. 6, 2020

Facebook, Cedar County Missouri Office of Emergency Management, Oct. 6, 2020

Caldwell County, July 24, 2020 COVID-19 update from the Caldwell County Commission, July 24, 2020

St. Clair County Health Center, COVID-19, Oct. 6, 2020

Shannon County Health Center, Oct. 6, 2020

Greenfield Vedette, Face Masks an Individual Choice, April 7, 2020

Email exchange with Kelli Jones, communications director for Mike Parson, Oct. 5, 2020

Interview with Lynelle Phillips, University of Missouri School of Health Professions assistant teaching professor and former advisor at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Oct. 1, 2020

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Most high-risk counties in Missouri don’t have mask mandates, despite Parson’s claim

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