The entire course of the COVID-19 pandemic in Missouri will have been on Gov. Mike Parson's watch — whatever happens — with his election earlier this month to a full term as the state's governor.
Parson is also entering his four-year term with a nation politically divided, even as coronavirus infections continue to surge and surpass previous all-time highs.
He sat down with the News Tribune last week to discuss his leadership approaches in the coming months and years.
Asked about how he would approach developing a relationship with President-elect Joe Biden, Parson last week did not exactly concede the former vice president had won the presidential election against President Donald Trump, but said, "The president is the commander-in-chief — period, regardless of what his last name is. I think over the years, I've learned a long time (ago), you want whoever the president of the United States is, whoever the governor is, to do a good job.
"I want whoever the next president is going to be to do a good job. For me, it's about I've got to take care of Missouri's interests, and I'm going to do that regardless of who the president of the United States is. I'm going to figure out the common ground that I can make the state better. It's all about trying to find relationships, what do you agree on, what you don't," Parson said.
A victory for Trump in North Carolina was projected Friday by the Associated Press, based on electoral results there, but the cumulative national results still show Biden having won 290-232, with 270 needed to win — though Trump has not conceded.
Given the current political climate and the possibility some people in the country in the months ahead will not accept the outcome of the presidential election, Parson said to bridge that divide, to get people working toward a common goal and to govern for all Missourians in his four years ahead of him, he's going to continue what he's been doing.
"In the governor's position, you've got to make an effort to go to those communities and figure out what's really going on, what the problems are, and quit making promises you can't deliver," he said.
"The first thing you've got to do is basic fundamentals that everybody talks about, but for decades and decades they haven't gotten done," he said.
Those fundamentals include early childhood development, security and job training.
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However, continuing to deal with the pandemic will likely come before any of that.
Parson said — drawing from his experiences serving in the U.S. Army and as a sheriff — when it comes to emergency responses, "I think the one thing you learn is you have to keep your composure, you can't overreact in the middle of a crisis, and you have to stay focused on exactly what it is you've got to get done and (be) oriented to making sure you complete all those steps."
His administration's response to the pandemic has had plenty of criticism, including because of his hesitancy to mandate statewide measures, but Parson this week began to hint at an openness to statewide but targeted measures — aimed specifically at areas such as K-12 schools.
On Thursday, two days after the News Tribune spoke with him, Parson announced quarantine policies for K-12 schools would be loosened, so long as schools would have a mask mandate in place and an infected person and someone exposed to them were correctly wearing masks at the time.
While that policy was criticized as well, Parson looked ahead to the announcement as being able to give flexibility: "You're going to be able to contain the local control, but you'll be able to give them a little bit more, I want to say cover, to say, 'If you want to make some changes, you can do that.'"
The policy change was still not a statewide mandate, however — more of an encouragement for schools to require masks, without Parson telling them to do so.
Asked if he's open to targeted approaches beyond schools, he said, "We're always talking about that. I think we're really going to start — we're kind of ramping up a PR campaign right now with a lot of people out there trying to explain why we need to still keep all the three procedures in place that we're doing," which are social distancing, wearing masks and good hygiene.
He said it's important for people to stay away from large gatherings, "as much as possible."
In his personal life, he said there are people in his family who are at high-risk from coronavirus, "so we're going to have to change things up a little bit (for the holidays, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas). We're not going to be able to have everybody there. But I think everybody will have to make a little bit of adjustment to that and know what those risks are."
Parson and his wife, Teresa, were infected with coronavirus earlier this fall; they have recovered.
"We'll be recommending, as we have, that you're going to have to make sure to think through the holiday season. And there's ways to do that. I know those are big holidays for everybody, but we also can split them up a little bit. Our family can, and we will," he said.
Parson said people have to "understand the risk of this situation, and again, the responsibility's going to come back to each individual."