The Kansas City Star, July 14

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson says wear a mask or social distance. Too bad he doesn’t bother

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson continues to send dangerous mixed signals about the use of masks and social distancing to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the state.

In a tweet Friday afternoon, the Republican governor urged residents to take precautions against the virus. “Please continue to be safe, smart, and responsible over the weekend,” he wrote. “Social distance. If you can’t social distance, wear a mask. Wash your hands.”

Parson has shown he’s capable of following that critical advice. On that Friday, Parson wore a mask (with “Chiefs” printed on it) at a ceremonial bill signing at Union Station.

Others in the small audience were appropriately masked and properly distanced from one another.

So how to explain the governor’s decision just a few hours later? He appeared inside a police station in Springfield and held another bill-signing photo op and a meet-and-greet with officers and other local officials.

Pictures published in the Springfield newspaper show no one wearing a mask or standing at a safe distance. Photos on Twitter show the same thing. There were roughly 50 people in the room.

Later that evening, Parson posed for a picture with new police department recruits. Again, no masks. Astonishingly, the recruiting class was sworn in privately “due to COVID-19 restrictions,” according to a department release.

Perhaps you think such recklessness is justified because Springfield has dodged COVID-19. Wrong. On Monday, the Springfield City Council voted 8-0 to make masks mandatory in most businesses and public places “after a record-setting week for new coronavirus cases in Greene County,” according to the Springfield News-Leader.

Parson’s weekend didn’t end in Springfield. On Saturday, he dropped in on the 17th annual Missouri Cattle Association steak fry at the state fairgrounds in Sedalia.

A video of the event that was posted online shows the crowd — hundreds of people — standing shoulder-to-shoulder, applauding. No one is wearing a mask. Pictures show the governor maskless as well.

“Governor Parson always makes a conscious effort to social distance and where distance is not possible he chooses to wear a mask, and he recommends all Missourians to do the same,” his office said in an email.

Numerous photos confirm that’s simply not true.

The governor may believe he is free to risk his own health and safety by not wearing a mask in some public appearances. But failing to wear a mask threatens others. If Parson picks up the coronavirus in a rural area, he can easily transmit it in St. Louis or Kansas City or any other place where he appears publicly.

Kansas City is under a mask order, of course, while Springfield is not. Surely, though, the governor doesn’t need to be under a government order to do the right thing.

“Masks are not a political statement,” Pettis County Health Administrator JoAnn Martin said recently. “They are a public health strategy to reduce the spread of disease.”

Sedalia is the county seat of Pettis County.

Almost five months after Missouri and the rest of the country were rocked by the novel coronavirus, Gov. Mike Parson seems unable to understand the seriousness of the threat. He could set an example for his state by simply wearing a mask. He will not.

He should. As of Monday, 1,069 Missourians have died of COVID-19.

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St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 12

St. Ann police force is poster child for tougher national hiring standards

There are new calls around the country to establish uniform national standards for police licensing along with a registry of cops whose record of abuse or misconduct would follow them whenever they apply for other law enforcement jobs. Both ideas made sense long before the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis focused renewed attention on the need to more thoroughly sift bad cops from the good ones on American police forces.

Stronger statewide reporting and employment standards in Missouri would help address deficiencies that prevent local police forces from knowing the full story behind the people applying for police jobs. But better still would be a national standard — an idea that has surprisingly strong bipartisan support and includes the backing of President Donald Trump.

Democrats in Congress propose establishment of a national police registry so that prospective law enforcement agencies would have a searchable database to help them uncover past potential disciplinary actions against job candidates. Trump recently signed an executive order for the attorney general to establish a shareable database.

It’s not clear whether such actions would address the kinds of wanton disregard that have turned police forces like the one in St. Ann into safe havens for officers fired or run off by other forces. But it’s clear that Chief Aaron Jimenez, among others, needs to receive a clearer mandate to stop hiring cops censured or fired by other forces.

The Post-Dispatch’s Erin Heffernan on July 5 outlined a startling number of cases in which cops who were fired outright or deemed unqualified for their jobs in neighboring jurisdictions nevertheless found a warm welcome in the St. Ann police force. The practice has become so commonplace it is routinely nicknamed the “muni shuffle” or the “North County shuffle.” Among officers with controversial backgrounds who got hired in St. Ann were some involved in questionable police shootings, assaults or domestic abuse. One had a history of drug abuse. Others had lied to superiors, while still others had engaged recklessly in police chases that resulted in deaths.

Jimenez is a longtime defender of high-speed police chases even when they end in tragedy. In addition to other highly controversial law-enforcement policies he supports, Jimenez keeps his door open to officers kicked off other forces — as long as the price is right. He appears to take advantage of their low employability by offering dramatically lower salaries. It’s as if, for Jimenez, budgetary savings makes it worth turning a blind eye to a candidate’s obvious unsuitability for the job.

Cronyism and nepotism help ensure Jimenez’ policies never face real scrutiny. He avoided facing questions from a reporter despite having agreed to an interview.

So what would it take for him to impose stricter standards? A good place to start would be tougher federal and state enforcement of uniform standards.

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The Joplin Globe, July 14

Take action on maternal mortality

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has released its first report on maternal mortality in the state.

The report, which is viewable at health.mo.gov/data/pamr, is from the state’s Pregnancy-Associated Mortality Review Board, a multidisciplinary board that’s been tasked with examining the causes and contributing factors associated with maternal mortality and determining interventions that could prevent such deaths from occurring in the future.

The report is based on deaths that occurred in 2017, the most recent year for which data was available. Among its findings:

• The pregnancy-related mortality ratio in Missouri was 26 deaths per 100,000 live births, of which 80% were determined to be preventable.

• In Missouri, Black women are four times more likely to die within one year of pregnancy than white women. Black women also experience a higher rate of severe maternal morbidity (213 deaths per 10,000 live births) than white women (92 deaths per 10,000 live births).

• In Missouri, women on Medicaid are five times more likely to die within one year of pregnancy than those with private insurance.

It’s not just a Missouri problem. Maternal mortality has been tracked nationwide by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention since 1986. Since that tracking system was implemented, the number of reported pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S. steadily increased from 7.2 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1987 to 16.9 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2016, the CDC reports.

Why? Reasons for the nationwide increase are “unclear,” the CDC says.

That’s why we’re glad to see that Missouri has taken the first step toward understanding why some people who give birth in our state are dying. But we strongly hope it won’t be the last step. Understanding a problem is good — solving a problem is better.

It would seem that members of the review board agree: “We have a lot of work ahead of us, but through addressing the issues identified by the PAMR board, the state of Missouri will be able to decrease our rate of maternal mortality while simultaneously improving those situations related to this issue,” said Ashlie Otto, the board’s coordinator, in a statement.

That work, we suspect, will largely be up to our state’s public health officials and lawmakers. The report — and the still-to-come reviews of 2018 and 2019 data — should be the foundation for them to develop policy recommendations, help craft new laws or create educational campaigns to drive down the maternal mortality rate in Missouri, and when all the information is in, we urge our state to take action.