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Emails show Parson was warned about virus outbreak before visit to state office building

Emails show Parson was warned about virus outbreak before visit to state office building

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Parson highlights PPE distribution center in Overland

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson removes his mask before speaking at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020, announcing Optimas' new distribution center in Overland that will handle personal protective equipment and other pandemic-related safety materials. Photo by Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com

JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Mike Parson proceeded with an event at a state office building last month after staff warned his office of a cluster of COVID-19 cases among state workers in the building, according to emails obtained by the Post-Dispatch.

Parson, a Republican running for a four-year term, was diagnosed with COVID-19 a week after the visit, on Sept. 23, and began a 10-day isolation period at the Governor’s Mansion.

The emails show that Lori Croy, a public relations officer at the Department of Commerce and Insurance, asked Kelli Jones, Parson’s spokeswoman, on Sept. 13 whether the governor wanted to move forward with an event at the Harry S Truman State Office Building on Sept. 16 “given the building situation.”

The situation Croy referenced was detailed in an email forwarded to Jones that mentioned a “small cluster” of COVID-19 cases at the state office building. The email to Truman building staff said that on Friday, the state began testing employees working within the affected area.

Of more than 100 tests, 12 came back positive, according to the email, which was signed by Office of Administration Commissioner Sarah Steelman.

“Most of these were from people showing NO symptoms,” the email said. “It is important to remember that even if someone does not show symptoms he or she can both spread the virus to others and suffer adverse health effects.”

“Governor Parson still plans to swing by on Wednesday,” Jones told Croy on Monday, Sept. 14.

“Okay,” Croy said. “We’ll prepare.”

The state workers reserved a large conference room for the visit, which “allows us to have a few more people than any of our internal conference rooms will allow with social distancing,” Croy said on Sept. 14.

In an email to Department of Commerce and Insurance staff, Chlora Lindley-Myers, director of the department, said Parson was visiting “to extend his appreciation to the department for their exemplary work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is important that we continue to observe the necessary social distancing and mask precautions for the visit,” she said.

Parson’s office has not said whether officials have any indication where the governor contracted the virus.

The day before his visit to the Truman building, on Sept. 15, Parson visited the Mount Vernon Veterans Home in southwest Missouri.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been working hard to keep our most vulnerable citizens safe,” Parson said in a Facebook post. “Our Missouri Veterans Commission has set the standard nationwide for veteran homes.”

On Sept. 16, the day after Parson’s visit and the same day as his visit to Truman, the state veterans commission logged its first case of the virus at the Mount Vernon home. Jones, Parson’s spokeswoman, said the governor’s office didn’t believe he contracted the virus there.

Between the visit to the state office building and the day he and his wife tested positive for the virus, Parson made numerous in-person visits elsewhere.

Though some photographs show Parson wearing a mask during this time, others show him without a mask.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing masks when physical distancing is difficult to maintain in order to reduce transmission of COVID-19.

His Democratic opponent in the Nov. 3 election, State Auditor Nicole Galloway, has said she would implement rules requiring face coverings in public places, something Parson has resisted.

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