Gov. Mike Parson and his wife, Teresa Parson, have both tested positive for COVID-19, forcing the governor to cancel his schedule — including a planned debate Friday in Columbia.
The news came on a day when the Department of Health and Senior Services finished adjusting death totals for the state, adding 129 to the state’s previous total, with most occurring in the past seven weeks. The state now has 1,947 deaths, the 16th highest total nationally since Aug. 1.
The state reported 1,580 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, with new infections in 105 of 117 local health jurisdictions. Missouri has now had 116,946 confirmed infections.
Wednesday was the 15th consecutive day of more than 1,000 cases. There have been only 11 days since July 21 with fewer than 1,000 cases in the state. Prior to that date, there had not been a single day with that many.
The governor is now in isolation with less than six weeks before the Nov. 3 election, where the Republican incumbent is seeking a full term against Democratic State Auditor Nicole Galloway.
Parson posted a video to his official social media accounts stating that he will remain in the Governor’s Mansion, while his wife will go to their home in Bolivar.
Teresa and I wanted to share a quick update with you. pic.twitter.com/FrQzMYmA7F— Governor Mike Parson (@GovParsonMO) September 23, 2020
“We are going to have to see where the First Lady goes and how I continue on for a few days here as we will probably be separated, quarantined for a little bit,” Parson said.
Both Parsons are in their 60s, and age is considered one of the major risk factors for severe illness or death, with risk increasing with age.
Teresa Parson posted a short video to her official Twitter page assuring Missourians she is “fine,” but has a few cold-like symptoms and decided to get tested because she is out with her husband so much.
Hello friends, I wanted to share a quick update with you about how I am doing. pic.twitter.com/qVNN5YvpJW— First Lady Teresa Parson (@FirstLadyTeresa) September 23, 2020
“I am going to take the next few days, take care of myself and I will see you again soon,” she said.
In a statement from her campaign, Galloway expressed sympathy and used the news as a warning to the state.
“I wish Governor Parson and First Lady Teresa Parson a safe and full recovery,” Galloway said. “This is a stark reminder that this virus can reach anyone, anywhere and that this pandemic is far from over. We must all continue to do our part in preventing the spread of the virus by practicing social distancing, washing hands, and wearing a mask.”
Both positive results were first identified in rapid tests, state Health Director Randall Williams said during a news conference from Parson’s office. That was followed by a positive nasal swab test for Teresa Parson, which was positive, and one for Gov. Parson, with results expected in the evening.
“All official and campaign events have been canceled until further notice,” the governor’s office said in a news release.
Teresa Parson has been a highly visible presence alongside the governor at public events, where he regularly introduces her to applause.
She recently accompanied the governor to a Greene County Republican Party barbecue over the weekend.
Great night in Springfield at the 60th Annual TARGET BBQ.
I’m proud to stand with @Mikelkehoe, @Eric_Schmitt, @JayAshcroftMO, and @FitzpatrickMO as we work together to move our state forward. pic.twitter.com/bwYGh0TU9s
The couple was again in Springfield on Tuesday for the first day of the Payne's Valley Cup.
Williams said that despite attending those events, he expects the number of close contacts that will need to quarantine for possible exposure will be small. Close contacts are defined as people who were within 6 feet for 15 minutes or longer.
“Surprisingly, it is not as big a number as you might think,” Williams said. “Because, while they might be in a room of 1,000 people, the number of people who are literally with them for 15 minutes right up next to them is actually a smaller number.”
Parson’s office said he would continue his duties while in isolation.
Kelli Jones, spokeswoman for Parson, said earlier in the day that Teresa Parson presented mild symptoms — "a sniffly nose and a little cough" — and took a test to be safe.
During the news conference, Williams was asked if the example of the Parsons catching the coronavirus is a reason to reconsider a state mask mandate. Parson has repeatedly rejected the idea of issuing such an order, despite the state’s ranking in the top five states for new cases in September.
The White House Coronavirus Task Force has recommended Missouri take that step several times.
The state’s position hasn’t changed, Williams said.
"We certainly think that here in Missouri, one size doesn’t fit all,“ he said.
Local governments, such as Columbia, are able to enact mask mandates and the state supports that, he said.
“We just think that if you are too draconian everywhere, people, really, it is almost as if it creates more problems than it solves,” Williams said.
The quarantine protocols are forcing the Missouri Press Association to postpone a four-way debate scheduled for Friday in Columbia, Executive Director Mark Maassen said.
Steele Shippy, Parson’s campaign manager, informed the association that he cannot attend “due to quarantine recommendations,” Maassen said.
The association will attempt to reschedule the forum, the only debate that both major candidates have agreed to attend, Maassen said. The forum was also scheduled to include the Libertarian and Green Party candidates for governor.
Austin Huguelet of the Springfield News-Leader contributed to this report.