Missouri Republican Gov. Mike Parson isn’t that big a fan of mask-wearing.
“The whole thing is people are going to have to take that responsibility on themselves,” he told a local TV station back in July. “I’ve worn a mask when I’ve been asked to wear a mask. When there’s a requirement to wear a mask, I wear a mask.” He added: “Am I going to be perfect about it, no.” (On a number of occasions over the summer, Parson shared photos via social media that suggested he was, in fact, not “perfect” about wearing a mask.)
Parson also has rejected a push from some within his state to adopt a mask mandate. “You can have the guidelines all day long,” he told the Springfield News-Leader in August. “But at the end of the day, someone’s got to take those guidelines and say ‘Are we willing to do that? Are we willing to give up gatherings? Are we willing to do social distancing?’ ” (Parson also drew national attention this summer for his controversial comments about the necessity of schools reopening.)
All of which brings me to Wednesday, when Parson announced that both he and his wife had tested positive for Covid-19. “Myself and the first lady are both fine,” Parson said in a video announcing the results. “I was tested. Those results, the preliminary results, has come back as a positive test. … Right now, I feel fine – no symptoms of any kind.”
It’s not clear how or when, exactly, Parson and his wife contracted Covid-19. Parson is expected to stay quarantined in the governor’s mansion for the next 10 days.
What Parson’s experience should do is serve as a reminder that Covid-19 doesn’t discriminate when it comes to who it sickens. Whether you believe in it or not, whether you think masks are some sort of intrusion on your freedom, the virus doesn’t care.
Know the best way – at least right now – that we can combat the uncontrolled spread of the coronavirus? By wearing a mask!
“We are not defenseless against Covid-19,” said CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield back in July. “Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus – particularly when used universally within a community setting. All Americans have a responsibility to protect themselves, their families, and their communities.”
Earlier this month, Redfield went even further. “I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against Covid than when I take a Covid vaccine, because the immunogenicity may be 70%,” he said. “And if I don’t get an immune response, the vaccine is not going to protect me. This face mask will.”
So, masks work. And yes, to Parson’s point, it would ideal if everyone just sort of grasped that fact and wore a mask when they were in public. But they don’t. And that’s due, at least in part, to President Donald Trump’s long-standing questioning of the need for masks – and his own resistance to wearing one in public.
“He feels good about the mask, and that’s OK. Whatever makes you feel good,” Trump said of former Vice President Joe Biden during a campaign rally in Pittsburgh on Tuesday.
So politicized has Trump made mask-wearing that Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, a Republican, was loudly booed at a Trump rally this week when he tried to get the audience to buy Trump campaign face masks.
It’s in that environment where politicians like Parson, who faces a serious reelection challenge in November from state auditor Nicole Galloway, are operating. Parson knows that any attempt to push a mask mandate would be met with unified opposition from the Trump wing of the Republican Party. He also knows he needs those base voters if he wants to win a full term in 2020.
And so, public health expertise and mounds of data be damned – Parson not only refused to consider a mask mandate but was also repeatedly photographed without a mask while inside and among crowds. And now he has Covid-19 himself.