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Missouri political leaders tackle coronavirus: Live interviews with The Missouri Times


As the state continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic, lawmakers placed a moratorium on legislative priorities, businesses shuttered, and unemployment claims skyrocketed.

The Missouri Times is meeting with political leaders and lawmakers across the state to bring you frequent updates on how the health crisis is being handled. More than 46,000 Missourians have tested positive for COVID-19, and 1,220 people have died.

July 30: DHEWD Commissioner Zora Mulligan with Kaitlyn Schallhorn 

The “vast majority” of schools will offer classes online this fall, Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development (DHEWD) Commissioner Zora Mulligan said.

“Everybody’s planning on their revised version of normal with the understanding that as the semester rolls forward, we’re going to have to continue to review the data and reevaluate our plans,” Mulligan said.

July 28: DHSS Director Dr. Randall Williams with Scott Faughn

A vaccine for COVID-19 could be available as early as December, according to Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) Director Dr. Randall Williams, 

“I think its gonna work really well. We’re incredibly appreciative of our friends at Pfizer and Washington University and St. Louis University, they’re doing clinical trials,” Williams said. 

May 29: DHSS Director Dr. Randall Williams with Kaitlyn Schallhorn

Dr. Randall Williams, director of the state’s health department, discussed the decision to extend the initial phase of Missouri’s reopening process and what needs to happen before the state can move forward to the next phase.

May 13: Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst with Scott Faughn 

Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst said despite a good planting season, there’s been a “tank” in corn prices as people haven’t been traveling and driving during the pandemic.

“Before this is over, we’re going to see animals euthanized,” Hurst predicted. “We already are in places. [There’s a] tremendous drop in prices for beef, for pork, and for dairy. … Farmers are very upset about what they’re seeing in their markets.”

April 28: DHSS Director Dr. Randall Williams with Scott Faughn

Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS), said Missouri is ready to gradually open the state in early May. He said hospital visits across the state, except for St. Louis, are trending downward, based on Missouri’s own modeling.

April 23: Economic Development Director Rob Dixon with Scott Faughn

Economic Development Director Rob Dixon joined The Missouri Times to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on Missouri’s bottom line. He said Missouri had “started to make progress” economically, especially when compared to neighboring states, before coronavirus.

April 20: St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann with Scott Faughn

St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann said he has a “philosophical problem” with stay at home orders — which is why he said his county “took a different approach” with its mandate.

“I have a philosophical problem with government thinking it knows what’s essential to you or to someone else, and what’s essential to you might not be essential to someone else,” Ehlmann said.

April 17: State Senator Doug Libla with Scott Faughn 

State Sen. Doug Libla joined The Missouri Times live to preview legislators’ soon return to the Capitol and budgetary needs.

“We’ve got to get up there, and there’s a lot of work to be done by the Appropriations Committee,” Libla said.

April 15: University of Missouri System President Dr. Mun Choi with Scott Faughn 

While the St. Louis campus has particularly felt the effects of coronavirus, University of Missouri System President Dr. Mun Choi said relatively few faculty, staff, or students have contracted COVID-19.

Choi predicted school — in particular, sports — would be back up and running by the fall semester.

“We’re fully expecting that … by that time, shelter in place will be lifted, social distancing will be relaxed, and we’ll have our opener with a full house,” Choi said.

“My hope is that we’re going to be open for business in the fall, welcoming students, having our fall opener, and winning that in style,” he added.

Choi, who recently took over as interim chancellor for the University of Missouri-Columbia, also said the system is considering layoffs and more concreted decisions would be made at the end of the month.

April 15: Lt. Governor Mike Kehoe with Scott Faughn

Although Missouri isn’t alone in this decision, Lt. Governor Mike Kehoe joined The Missouri Times to discuss the many factors that go into determining when the state can reopen and lift certain stay at home mandates.

“Balancing and understanding the state’s needs and how this virus is impacted different parts of the states differently is probably the biggest challenge we have right now as policymakers,” Kehoe said. “It’s just a difficult situation to get your hands around when the state is so diverse.”

Kehoe also discussed how Missouri businesses have stepped up to help manufacture personal protective equipment (PPE) and other necessities during the pandemic.

April 13: House Minority Floor Leader Crystal Quade with Scott Faughn

From the criminal justice system to mandatory sick leave, House Minority Leader Crystal Quade broke down the priorities House Democrats pointed to for the state to be “proactive” when tackling coronavirus.

“In my opinion, the [stay at home order] should have been done sooner. When we look at the counties that stepped forward ahead of time, they’re already to the peak of the curve … or very close to the peak in the curve,” Quade said.

April 8: State Senator Andrew Koenig with Kaitlyn Schallhorn

Although the General Assembly has largely been focused on the supplemental budget while in a short session this week, Sen. Andrew Koenig’s bill streamlining the rape kit process is advancing.

Koenig joined The Missouri Times live to discuss the future of that bill as well as the changes to Capitol protocol as lawmakers came back to Jefferson City to work on the supplemental budget.

April 7: State Senator Bob Onder with Scott Faughn 

Sen. Bob Onder joined The Missouri Times live to discuss how coronavirus is impacting state Senate races this year. Onder noted many in the General Assembly have won seats “by sheer hard work,” such as knocking doors.

“That is something some of these members have to think about right now: How do you get your message out? Whether it be social media or sitting down and making phone calls instead of knocking on doors, how do you get your message out during this challenging time,” Onder said.

April 3: Attorney General Eric Schmitt with Scott Faughn

Attorney General Eric Schmitt said his office is working diligently to crack down on scams during the pandemic. Schmitt joined The Missouri Times from his St. Louis office. 

For example, he said scam artists attempt to take advantage of a time like this, and may send out false text messages or emails to individuals claiming to help get their money from the federal stimulus package early. 

April 2: UFCW Local 655 President Dave Cook with Scott Faughn

UFCW Local 655 President Dave Cook not designating grocery workers as essential — even though stores are having to remain open for customers — could be detrimental. Cook has advocated for grocery workers to receive personal protective equipment (PPE) and other resources from the state during this pandemic, noting the aid should be temporary and workers would “fall in line” behind EMS, police officers, firefighters, etc. 

“We don’t need thanks. We need action,” Cook said of what the governor has done so far for grocery workers. 

April 2: DESE Commissioner Margie Vandeven with Scott Faughn 

All 555 public district and charter schools closed by March 19 — but those closures vary. While some are shuttered through the end of the month or even the end of the school year, others are scheduled to resume within a week, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven said.

However, if the governor’s social distancing order is extended past April 6, it’s likely schools will have to remain closed.

March 31: Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft with Scott Faughn

On the final day of filing, the Secretary of State’s Office made sure to implement social distancing as candidates came into the building.

Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft praised the governor for his executive order moving municipal elections from April to June.

“As much as possible, we wanted to show that we’re gonna get through these turbulent times,” Ashcroft said. “We need to be the stability.”

March 30: DHSS Director Dr. Randall Williams with Scott Faughn

Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) Director Randall Williams said Missouri is focused on promoting social distancing and testing to mitigate the spread of coronavirus.

Williams broke down the differences between testing done by the state and those done at private labs — from the criteria to be eligible for tests to how long it takes to receive results.

March 27: Senate Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden with Scott Faughn 

Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden said he “feels good” about the Senate’s decision to adjourn early ahead of the legislative spring break. And he’s working with multiple entities, including Boone County and Cole County health departments, to get the legislature back to Jefferson City to pass the supplemental budget.

“This is unprecedented and uncharted, and you’re making decisions most people never thought they’d have to make so there has to be a little bit of grace extended there in those moments,” Rowden said from Columbia.

March 15: DHSS Director Dr. Randall Williams with Scott Faughn

After the governor declared a state of emergency, Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) Director Dr. Randall Williams said the state is broadening its scope of resources to respond to coronavirus.

Missouri is “incredibly well prepared, but you will see us as we move forward, we will constantly evolve to situations on the ground,” Williams said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For up-to-date information on coronavirus, check with the CDC and DHSS.