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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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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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