JEFFERSON CITY (AP) — Gov. Mike Parson is clarifying comments he made in a radio interview in which he said children returning to school would come down with the coronavirus but would “get over it,” remarks that drew criticism from several Democrats as well as the head of a state teachers union.
The governor, a Republican, made the comments Friday during an interview on “The Marc Cox Morning Show” on 97.1 FM in St. Louis. State Auditor Nicole Galloway, a Democrat and Parson’s likely opponent in the November general election, said on Twitter that the governor showed “stunning ignorance” about how COVID-19 affects children.
Parson’s comment came as new reported coronavirus cases have multiplied since the Fourth of July weekend. On Wednesday, the state again broke its record for highest single-day increase in confirmed illnesses, with 1,301 new cases reported by the state health department. The previous record was set Tuesday.
Missouri National Education Association President Phil Murray said Parson’s comments showed “a callous disregard for the suffering of children and the safety of the parents, grandparents, educators, and students that will be put at risk if schools are reopened with improper plans and protections.”
“When the Governor says that children are ‘gonna get over it’ he forgets that some children won’t,” Murray said in a statement Tuesday. “He forgets that some children will be left with life-long health problems and some children will lose their lives.”
Parson later sought to clarify his statements, telling reporters Wednesday that his comments “were not articulated very well.”
“What I was trying to say is that there is a very real possibility that there could be COVID in our schools, and we want to be prepared for that,” Parson said.
He said that anyone who used his comments politically to say he doesn’t care about children “is one sick individual.”
In the interview Friday on 97.1 FM, Parson was stressing the need to reopen schools and the importance of in-person education.
“They’re at the lowest risk possible,” Parson said of children. “And if they do get COVID-19, which they will — and they will when they go to school — they’re not going to the hospitals. They’re not going to have to sit in doctor’s offices. They’re going to go home, and they’re going to get over it.”
On average, 851 new cases have been reported each day for the past week in Missouri, according to an Associated Press analysis of Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 tracking project. That’s almost double the seven-day rolling average from the week of July 7 through July 14, when an average of 443 cases were reported each day.
Parson has resisted requiring face masks statewide to stem the virus’ spread.
State health department Director Randall Williams said Wednesday that that was because many Missouri counties had not had many cases.
Williams said any statewide mandate should be enforced equally. But equal enforcement gets complicated, he said, when some areas have high rates of infection and others have few cases.
Several school districts announced this week their plans for the fall semester, which begins in about a month, with many planning in-person classes. The plans are complicated by a surge in confirmed COVID-19 cases since Missouri reopened its economy in mid-June.
Missouri’s other big teachers union, the Missouri State Teachers Association, urged Parson on Wednesday to direct an emergency rule allowing teachers to receive workers’ compensation if they are diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus or are quarantined because of it. A similar rule was enacted in April for first responders.
At the University of Missouri’s flagship Columbia campus, students who test positive for COVID-19 in the fall won’t be required to report that information to the university, the Columbia Missourian reported.
John Middleton, chair-elect of the college’s faculty council, said the university would track and publicly report data on coronavirus cases confirmed by the MU Student Health Center. But he said the university could not require students who get tested elsewhere to report their results to school.