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Missouri Gov. Parson clarifies role of National Guard in responding to civil unrest

State says COVID-19 testing has been successful, but still room to grow by Phillip Sitter | June 3, 2020 at 9:45 p.m. | Updated June 4, 2020 at 3:52 a.m.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson speaks during a COVID-19 briefing Wednesday, June 3, 2020.

Gov. Mike Parson on Wednesday credited law enforcement and activists with a peaceful preceding night of protests, and he clarified the role of the Missouri National Guard members he's called to assist in quelling civil unrest after the killing of George Floyd.

Floyd, a black man, was killed May 25 in the custody of the Minneapolis Police Department when a white officer pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for several minutes while Floyd pleaded for air. That officer has since been charged with murder, and three other officers involved have been charged with aiding and abetting a murder.

Floyd's death and the video recording of it sparked an ongoing wave of protests across the world but especially in the United States, where violence has followed in some instances, including in Missouri.

Parson declared a state of emergency May 30 due to civil unrest, activated the National Guard to support state and local authorities and provide other assistance as needed, and announced Tuesday that more than 1,000 more National Guard troops were being called to help support the Missouri Highway Patrol and local law enforcement agencies.

Parson said Wednesday that although Guard members can legally make arrests, they are in a supporting role - including providing security for infrastructure, such as police stations - that frees up law enforcement, specifically the Highway Patrol, to address criminal activities.

"We don't really want to put the Guard out in a place where they're doing the up-front policing side of it. I think you have to be careful when you use them for that function," Parson said.

He said Wednesday that within the next day or so, "we could easily have probably 1,500-2,000" total National Guard members in the process of being called up or activated to be involved with addressing civil unrest - including the more than 1,000 Guard members he called Tuesday.

Parson said the Guard already is and has been on the ground - as evidenced by their role in monitoring the protests Monday in Jefferson City.

Parson credited Tuesday night's peaceful protests across the state to the efforts of law enforcement officers and protesters - the latter for honoring curfews and going home after dark - as well as activists and other community leaders.

In terms of the ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Parson said the positivity rate among people tested for an active infection had decreased despite increased testing, and hospitalizations in Missouri from the disease have decreased 40 percent statewide over the past month.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the positivity rate among people tested for an active COVID-19 infection was 6.4 percent, according to the Department of Health and Senior Services - out of a total of 211,118 people who had been tested since the first confirmed case in the state in March.

As of May 31 - the most recent data available Wednesday - 543 people across the state were in the hospital because of COVID-19.

Though there have been events and other ongoing activities that could have exposed large numbers of people to infection - including Memorial Day weekend gatherings and the ongoing protests - Missouri has so far not seen a re-emergence of widespread community transmission of COVID-19 since restrictions on business and activities began to be eased May 4, DHSS Director Dr. Randall Williams said.

Williams said, to his knowledge, there have not been any more cases resulting from exposure at the Lake of the Ozarks over Memorial Day weekend, specifically in Camden County.

Parson said Missouri has exceeded its goals with its testing strategies - box-in, sentinel and community sampling.

He said the goal Monday had been to do 700 box-in tests, and 1,298 were done. With sentinel testing, the goal had been to do 210, and 344 were done.

More than 1,100 community sampling tests were done Monday and Tuesday, Parson added. He had previously said the goal was 975 a day.

Box-in testing refers to rapidly testing everyone at a facility such as nursing homes or jails where large numbers of people are congregated together and there's been a confirmed case among residents or staff.

Sentinel testing refers to proactively identifying people who may be infected but not showing symptoms at such facilities.

Community sampling refers to trying to determine the prevalence of COVID-19 in an area to help people have confidence about their ability to safely engage in their communities and with the economy.

The state has also reported all-time highs in terms of the number of people being tested each day, and it can now do 11,000 tests a day using 20 laboratories.

Williams once again relayed a message from pediatricians to families to begin resuming routine check-ups for children - as well as for other people to resume routine wellness checks, especially for conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, which can lead to higher rates of death among people infected with COVID-19.


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