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The Missouri Democratic Party on Wednesday urged Republican Gov. Mike Parson to apologize for his "callous" insistence that he's in no way to blame for a sharp increase in coronavirus cases since he lifted restrictions June 16.

Parson said Tuesday that he didn't believe the governor has personal responsibility for any virus and compared the illness that has killed almost 1,000 people in his state to a flu bug. He said no one would expect him to take responsibility if someone was involved in an accident on a Missouri road.

"That's no different than the flu virus," he said.

"Do I feel guilty because we have car accidents and people die every day? No, I don't feel guilty about that," Parson said. "Each person that gets in those situations, things happen like that in life. They do. I don't know that any one person's responsible for that, no more than anybody else standing out here in this hallway."

He also suggested the media has some responsibility for not doing "a good enough job really telling people the facts."

Missouri Democratic Party spokesperson Kevin Donohoe said in a statement Wednesday the comments represent a "new low" for Parson's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

"The governor's refusal to take any responsibility for the state's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and his decision to compare COVID-19 deaths to the flu and car crashes is deeply offensive and represents a stunning lack of compassion," Donahoe said. "Parson has insulted the 966 Missourians who have lost their lives to this pandemic. The governor needs to immediately apologize for his callous and offensive comments."

The governor's spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for a reaction.

Meanwhile, a southwest Missouri County that has seen a surge of cases since the start of June has confirmed its first death from COVID-19. The McDonald County Health Department said the patient was 51 and had no known underlying health issues, the Joplin Globe reported.

As of Tuesday, the county had 549 confirmed cases, after having fewer than two dozen earlier in June. Many of the cases are tied to the Tyson Foods chicken processing plant in Noel.

The county is facing "extraordinary circumstances," the health department said in a statement and urged residents to wear face masks in public and maintain social distancing. Social gatherings also are being discouraged.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has sent investigators to southwest Missouri. A total of 634 CDC staff are currently working in state, tribal, local and territorial health agencies in response to the virus outbreak.

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