SPRINGFIELD – Missouri Gov. Mike Parson swung through two Springfield institutions Monday morning to cheer on the "reopening" of business and assure the public that it’s safe to come back out.
His first stop was at Bass Pro Shops’ flagship store, where he delivered a straightforward message to dozens of masked employees just before they re-opened under the city’s loosened restrictions.
"It's so important to come here today because I want people to know it's OK," Parson said. "It's OK to come back out, it's OK to start being engaged in your communities, it's OK to be engaged in the economy."
He also lamented that more than 400,000 Missourians are unemployed in the state right now and told Bass Pro employees they would play a big part in turning that around.
"The only way to help those people is by you being here today," he said, "by showing everybody that it's OK to go back to work. You can do it responsibly, you can do it safely, and you can start our state back up again."
"Everybody's going to know this brand name all across the state," he continued, "and if all of you in this room today can do that, then every other business can do it, too."
Parson acknowledged the risks involved with re-opening.
"This virus is not going away," he said. "I can’t sugarcoat that to anyone."
While the number of new coronavirus cases reported in the state each day has declined in recent weeks, public health experts like Springfield’s Clay Goddard have made clear the disease remains at large here and throughout the state.
Social distancing and staying at home has helped "flatten the curve" and kept hospitals from being overwhelmed, but there remains no vaccine or approved treatment for those who get infected.
It is also not yet known whether those who are infected and survive are immune to subsequent infections, and if so, for how long.
Parson said workers could nevertheless help by taking precautions themselves and taking care of loved ones as well, reiterating familiar points he’s made on the importance of individual responsibility.
"Because the one thing I know, government’s not going to fix this problem," he said. "There's a role we're playing, but I'm telling you, when it comes to this virus, it comes to each and every one of us taking on the responsibility ourselves to make sure we protect one another, we protect our loved ones."
Then he took a drive across town to Cox South, where he and his staff and first lady Teresa Parson put on masks per hospital policy and toured a new intensive care unit built specifically to handle a surge of novel coronavirus patients.
No patients were present in the ward Monday.
Parson repeatedly praised the hospital in conversation with CoxHealth CEO Steve Edwards, telling him at one point that seeing Cox build the new ICU in a matter of weeks gave the state a sense it had a fighting chance amid the outbreak.
"I think that gave us all relief," he said. "That was one of those ‘wow’ moments."
He also offered a more measured assessment of his "reopening" calculus.
"The thing that worries me still," he said, "is twofold: I've got to get the economy going ... but still maintain that balance of staying safe. That's hard to do. Every day, we're constantly wondering, if we gradually do this, will people listen? But I think for the most part, they will."
Parson, for his part, allowed most businesses to remain open even under his "Stay Home Missouri" order, which expired Sunday at midnight.
His new order, dubbed a "Show Me Strong Recovery" plan, allows all businesses to reopen unless they’re in a city or county with stricter rules like Springfield, which is requiring places like movie theaters and concert venues to remain closed this month.
In a later press conference, Parson again praised businesses in Springfield and Joplin, which he visited earlier Monday.
"It was encouraging to see how these businesses have adjusted to these challenging times," he said.