Governor Mike Parson tweeted this photo of himself meeting with staff on September 15 at Mount Vernon Veterans Home, which is now dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak.
Veterans homes across Missouri are battling an outbreak of COVID-19 cases, state officials say.
There are seven homes and a total 1,238 beds operated by the Missouri Veterans Commission. For months of the pandemic, the state's homes saw few cases, but that changed in September. As of Friday, there were 122 veterans and 33 staff members with active cases of COVID-19, according to the commission.
That includes veterans at five of the seven homes and staff at six of the homes.
Missouri Governor Mike Parson announced on Friday he was ordering a review of all seven homes and was bumping up the supply of tests, starting with a shipment of 2,400 delivered last week.
"The recent sudden positive case growth among staff and residents in our Veterans Homes, and most importantly, the tragic loss of lives of veterans in our care are, in my opinion, unacceptable," Parson said in a news release.
All the homes immediately began following new protocols when COVID-19 hit Missouri and have worked to keep veterans and staff safe throughout the pandemic, according to the commission.
"From the first day that COVID-19 was detected in Missouri, the Veterans Homes implemented an extensive plan based on best practices to attempt to keep the virus out of our homes and protect our veterans," the commission's executive director Paul Kirchhoff said in a news release.
In early March, the commission announced visitors would not be allowed inside the state's veterans homes in hopes of limiting the spread of the virus. Family members could only visit on the other side of window glass or through video chats. Only since August has the commission relaxed some of the restrictions, allowing masked visits outdoors.
Parson visited two of the homes last month
, entering the Mount Vernon Veterans Home on September 15 to speak to staff.
In the weeks since, cases have spiked. In Mount Vernon, there are now 27 veterans and four staffers with the coronavirus, according to the commission.
Parson and his wife Teresa tested positive for COVID-19 on September 23. The governor's spokeswoman told the RFT
last week there was "no connection" between Parson's visit and the recent surge of cases.
"A screening process was done before entering, social distance was practiced, and masks were worn," spokeswoman Kelli Jones said in an email.
The governor and his wife had mild cases of the virus, and Parson said in a video filmed on Sunday at his farm in Bolivar that he and Teresa have recovered and were headed back to Jefferson City, eleven days after they tested positive.
"Thanks, everybody. Looking forward to being back at work," said Parson, who is running for his first full term after replacing Eric Greitens, who resigned amid a sex scandal. "See you on the trail before long."
The commission says it's not yet clear how many veterans at the homes have died as a result of COVID-19. On Friday, Parson said in a news release that there have been deaths at four of the facilities.
Parson regularly encourages people to wear masks and maintain social distance, but he has also rejected calls for a statewide mask mandate and has at times downplayed the severity of the pandemic. He has also attended multiple large events without a mask, interacting with similarly unmasked attendees. In May, he tweeted out photos of himself, posing maskless
with masked members of the Disabled American Veterans in Joplin.
Meanwhile, Missouri's COVID-19 rates have risen to among the worst in the nation. More than 2,100 people in the state have died as a result of the virus and more than 132,000 have tested positive.
Among the veterans homes, facilities in Cape Girardeau, Mount Vernon and St. James have been hit the hardest. Cape had 57 veterans and twelve staff members with COVID-19 as of Friday, according to the commission. St. James had 24 vets and nine staff members with active cases.
Kirchhoff said the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is helping to provide more staffing and other resources in the Cape and St. James homes.
Only the home in Mexico, Missouri, was reporting zero cases. The St. Louis Veterans Home has two staff members and no veterans with COVID-19.
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