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Missouri governor clarifies comments on school kids, virus

Published: Jul. 22, 2020 at 12:34 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 22, 2020 at 3:37 PM CDT
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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.

Parson's comment came as reported coronavirus cases increase in the state. On Wednesday, the state again broke its record for highest single-day increase in confirmed illnesses, with 1,301 newly reported cases. The previous record was set Tuesday.

A state health department spokeswoman says part of the rise in daily numbers is because of a backlog in processing COVID-19 test data. But overall, cases are still trending up.

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, and in a statement Wednesday to The Associated Press.

Parson told Reardon 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.

In the statement to the AP, Parson said he has been a "strong supporter of public education" throughout his career.

"I attended a public school. My children attended public school, and my grandchildren attended public school," Parson said. "Currently, my daughter is a public school teacher."

Parson's statement said the safety "of ALL Missouri students, educators, and school employees are of utmost important to me. Getting students back to school is a big concern for all of us."

In the Friday interview on 97.1 FM, Parson was stressing that 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 announced their plans for the fall semester, which begins in about a month, with many planning in-person classes. The plans are complicated by a surge in confirmed COVID-19 cases since Missouri reopened its economy in mid-June.

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 the COVID-19 virus 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.

At the University of Missouri's flagship Columbia campus, students who test positive for COVID-19 in the fall won't be required to report that information to the university, the Columbia Missourian reported.

John Middleton, chair-elect of the college’s faculty council, said the university will track and publicly report data on coronavirus cases confirmed by the MU Student Health Center. But he said the university cannot require students who get tested elsewhere to report their results to school.

Copyright 2020 KY3. All rights reserved.

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