While COVID-19 cases continue to climb in Missouri as various public health restrictions expire or get lifted, Gov. Mike Parson said he doesn’t foresee shutting down the state again.

The virus isn’t going away soon, he said, so the state must learn how to deal with it, while simultaneously reopening the economy.

"With what we’ve learned, we’re well prepared to fight this virus," Parson said during a webinar Thursday that served as the Regional Chambers Luncheon, hosted by area chambers of commerce. "It’s still going to be out there, but we have to make people feel safe.

"Our testing every day is increasing; we’ve gone from 3,000 a day to 12,000. We’ve got to keep building that test structure, build confidence in the community so people can get back. We have to do both."

When a vaccine is developed and distributed nationally, Parson said it’s unlikely he would mandate it for Missouri residents, as it should be a matter of personal choice or sense of responsibility – similarly to why he hasn’t mandated facemasks.

"At some point people have to make their own decision," the governor said. "I don’t think that’s the government’s place to mandate (getting vaccinated)."

When COVID-19 hit and turned off the spigot with Missouri’s economy – as Parson put it – one thing the governor said he found frustrating was trying to nail down who, how and where the virus would affect as the state built its information dashboard.

"We should’ve learned that the African-American community was at higher risk, and nursing homes, prisons and food packing plants," he said.

Also problematic: the state had been too dependent on foreign countries early on for PPE. Parson believes the Google marketplace, developed to connect health care providers with Missouri manufacturers and suppliers, has helped there.

With businesses reopening, unemployment has dropped from a high of about 440,000 to 300,000, the governor said.

Among the other topics Parson discussed or answered questions during the webinar:

• The governor said he could call a special session for the General Assembly to pass liability protection for businesses with regards to COVID-19.

"People stepped up and did a lot of great things for us," Parson said. "The last thing we need to do is create legal nightmares for people who did the right thing."

• If a special session happens, Parson said he doesn’t know if lawmakers will continue to tackle Wayfair legislation – a sales tax on remote sales based on economic activity in the state rather than physical presence – though he’s always supported that, he said.

"It’s a fairness issue for brick and mortar, and you especially saw that in the pandemic," Parson said. "Why would we give a business outside the state of Missouri an advantage over a business in Missouri?"

• Police reform is a worthy discussion, but the governor said blanket national policies regarding police aren’t always feasible.

"I can’t imagine at the federal level a committee having policy that would fit every community in the United States," said Parson, a former county sheriff before he went into state politics. "Do we all need to come to the table and figure out ways to reform, yeah we can do that.

"There has to be a rule of law in society. Nobody has the right to destroy somebody else’s property. It’s a huge conversation to have, and how you build on that, but it’s not something you do out of anger. We need to take our time.

"What does that mean to you (when people say defund the police)," he asked rhetorically. "What is the end game when we say those things."