Gov. Mike Parson spent part of Monday — the state's first day unrestricted by stay-at-home orders — in Joplin, visiting local businesses that hope to return to normal as the state gradually reopens.
Unfortunately, despite being photographed in the Red Racks Thrift Store surrounded by store staff and board members in masks, Parson didn't wear a mask. He "chose not to," he told reporters, saying: "I don't think it's a government's role to mandate who wears a mask and who doesn't."
That's despite mask-wearing guidance from Parson's own health department. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recommends cloth face coverings, especially when social distancing isn't possible.
"Studies are beginning to show that individuals in close proximity to others may transmit the virus that causes COVID-19 without having developed symptoms themselves," the state health department says. "Homemade cloth face coverings offer some degree of protection against large infectious droplets, such as mucus or saliva, when speaking, sneezing or coughing. This particularly protects those around the person wearing the face covering and helps people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others."
The last part of that guidance is particularly important given a startling discovery in Missouri about the percentage of asymptomatic people who test positive for the coronavirus.
The state has been testing employees and contract workers of Triumph Foods in St. Joseph as part of a testing strategy for when people are living or working closely together, as they do in a food plant.
Of the 2,367 workers who were tested and who presented with no symptoms of COVID-19, 412 tested positive for coronavirus anyway. That's 17.4% of people at the plant who show no signs nor symptoms of COVID-19 but who have the virus and can potentially spread it to others.
It's an important reminder to us that social distancing, limiting large gatherings of people and wearing masks are still being recommended for a reason: The virus is still out there and we don't always know who around us might spread it even if they're not showing symptoms.
That the governor opted not to wear a mask to protect those around him during his visit to Joplin is disappointing, especially because the state health department's testing suggests that coronavirus may be more present around us than we think. Strong leadership is needed right now, and that includes setting an example to promote the safety and security of others.