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Governor aims to clarify virus comments

Jim Salter
The Associated Press

O'FALLON, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Gov. Mike Parson is clarifying comments he made in a radio interview in which he said children returning to school will come down with the coronavirus but will “get over it,” remarks that drew criticism from several Democrats as well as the head of a state teachers' union.

The Republican governor made the comments Friday during an interview on “The Marc Cox Morning Show” on 97.1 FM in St. Louis. Democratic State Auditor Nicole Galloway, Parson's likely opponent in the November general election, said on Twitter that the governor showed “stunning ignorance” about how COVID-19 affects children.

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. He forgets that some children will be left with life-long health problems and some children will lose their lives,” Murray said in a statement Tuesday.

Parson sought to clarify his comments in a subsequent radio interview Tuesday, this time with Mark Reardon of KMOX Radio in St. Louis. Parson said he “didn’t do a good job of explaining” his point, but added that anyone implying that he doesn't care about children is a “sick individual.”

“Everybody's trying to make politics out of it. Whatever,” Parson said, citing his “history of helping out kids” throughout his career, including his time in law enforcement.

In the Friday interview 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.”

In the KMOX interview, Parson said the point he was trying to make was, “We need to do everything we can to make it safe when they go back to school, and that we are ready when the day comes and somebody comes in and they test positive.”

Several school districts this week have announced their plans for the fall semester, which begins in about a month, with many planning in-person classes. The plans are complicated by the surge in COVID-19 cases.

On Tuesday, the state health department announced a record one-day total of new confirmed cases — 1,138. Deaths from the virus have slowed, but it has killed 1,143 people in Missouri since the pandemic began, and hospitalizations are starting to tick up again.

Missouri's other big teachers' union, the Missouri State Teachers Association, said Wednesday it is urging Parson to direct an emergency rule allowing teachers to receive workers’ compensation if they are diagnosed with COVID-19 or are quarantined because of it. A similar rule was enacted in April for first responders.

“If districts choose to return to in-person school, we know school employees will be at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19. Our goal with this action is to provide additional protection for these employees,” MSTA Executive Director Bruce Moe said.