Legislative Column

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The Capitol has been mostly dark for the past few weeks. The halls are empty. Office doors are locked tight while legislative staff members work from their respective homes during the coronavirus shutdown. Aside from cleaning crews methodically disinfecting the building, there is only one hub of activity in Missouriís Statehouse: the second-floor offices of the governor.

I believe there is no greater sign of the governorís leadership than his 3 p.m. coronavirus updates, which he has faithfully conducted throughout the crisis. Originally begun as a daily press briefing, the address has become something of statewide chat, livestreamed on Facebook every day. The governor begins each briefing with an update on the spread of the virus and a review of steps taken during the previous 24 hours. Following his own remarks, he then invites various members of his cabinet to the microphone to provide information relating to that agencyís mission. The press, no longer allowed to attend in person due to the governorís social distancing restrictions, submits questions electronically.

The open doors of the governorís office provide both a visual background for the briefing and a powerful metaphor. Throughout the coronavirus crisis, I believe the governor has been honest and forthright in all his actions. He tells us each day, in frank and unvarnished terms, the situation in Missouri and what is being done to address it.

The governorís management of the coronavirus outbreak began in early March, nearly a week before Missouriís first ďpresumptiveĒ confirmed case of COVID-19 was reported on March 7. Immediately, steps were taken to slow the spread of the virus. On March 11, the Department of Health and Senior Services established a 24-hour hotline, so citizens without internet access could get answers. The governor declared a state of emergency on March 13, an action that allowed him to more freely mobilize state resources and suspend regulations that might inhibit a rapid response.

Throughout the past three weeks, the governor has taken numerous steps to combat COVID-19. He issued guidelines on large gatherings of people, closed casinos, postponed municipal elections, eased state regulations to allow health care providers more flexibility in treating patients and issued an order requiring all Missourians to follow strict social distancing practices. He has mobilized the Missouri National Guard to help with transportation and, potentially, setting up temporary health care facilities. He has personally visited warehouses to observe as the Department of Public Safety distributed vital personal protective equipment supplies to health care facilities across the state.

On Friday, April 3, the governor issued a statewide stay-at-home order, effective through April 24. The governorís order instructs everyone in Missouri to avoid leaving their homes or places of residence unless necessary. Building on his previous social distancing order, gatherings of more than 10 people are not allowed, schools remained closed, restaurants are limited to take-out and delivery service and all businesses must take steps to limit close contact among patrons. The governorís action does not prohibit people from accessing essential services, including grocery stores, gas stations and banks, or from engaging in outdoor recreation, provided that necessarily precautions are taken.

So thereís no confusion, the governor is NOT ordering businesses to close. The order specifically states that non-essential businesses can remain open, but they must follow social distancing guidelines Ė no more than 10 people (including employees) can occupy a single space and everyone must maintain six feet of separation and practice good hygiene. There are also new occupancy rules for retail businesses. You can find more information on how the new order affects businesses by visiting the Department of Economic Developmentís website at ded.mo.gov.

In making the announcement, the governor shared his concerns about imposing a one-size-fits-all requirement on the entire state. The spread of the coronavirus varies greatly across Missouri. As I prepare this report, there are more than 2,400 confirmed coronavirus cases in Missouri. The vast majority of those infected live in large cities and suburban areas. My Senatorial District Ė which encompasses more than 6,300 square miles across eight rural counties Ė has seen about a dozen confirmed cases so far. Should those of us in sparsely populated rural areas be under the same rules as our urban cousins? The governor had to weigh that question before joining more than 40 other governors who have enacted similar statewide restrictions.

Personally, I believe the governor is doing a great job. He and his office have been responsive at every turn. Thereís never been a time when Iíve reached out to the governorís office with a question and not received an immediate answer.†I trust his leadership, and Iím happy heís at the helm. I encourage all Missourians to support him as he guides our state through these difficult times. Please include the governor and First Lady in your prayers.

For more information about the coronavirus in Missouri, visit†www.health.mo.gov, or call the state COVID-19 hotline at 877-435-8411. If you are connected, I encourage you to tune into the governorís 3 p.m. briefing each day on Facebook.

Out of an abundance of caution, Senate offices remain closed. Although we will not be available for visitors, you may contact us by email or phone. Please donít hesitate to contact my Capitol office at 573-751-1882.