On Saturday, Gov. Mike Parson and three other Republican statewide incumbents seeking a new term in November attended a typical election-year political event sponsored by a Columbia-based farm group.
At the Cattlemen's Steak Fry in Sedalia, there were ribeyes on the grill, speeches and, despite urgings from Parson and state Health Director Randall Williams in other places, hardly a mask to be seen.
The event drew Democratic and Republican politicians from around the state.
Among other the GOP leaders who attended were Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, State Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick and Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, as well as U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Harrisonville, Boone County state Reps. Sara Walsh, R-Ashland, Cheri Reisch, R-Hallsville and Chuck Basye, R-Rocheport.
House Democratic Leader Crystal Quade of Springfield was also there, as were several other Democratic lawmakers.
The event came at the end of a week where Missouri recorded 3,918 new COVID-19 infections, testing showed positive rates are double their low of May 29 and daily deaths increased by 40 percent.
Missouri recorded another 757 cases on Sunday and Monday, an increase of more than 100 over the same two days last week. There have been 27,890 infections reported to the state Department of Health and Senior Services since early March and 1,083 deaths.
"If you're at an event and you're within 3 feet of somebody, you need to wear a mask," Williams said Thursday during a news conference with Parson.
When photos of the event were posted on social media, there was an immediate backlash of people asking why no masks were being worn, much of it directed at Parson.
Teresa and I enjoyed a great evening with friends at the 17th annual @MoCattle’s Association Steak Fry. pic.twitter.com/0pVyJpLixt— Governor Mike Parson (@GovParsonMO) July 12, 2020
On Friday, Parson used his official Twitter account to urge Missourians to be careful as the state sets new records for COVID-19 infections.
"Please continue to be safe, smart, and responsible over the weekend," Parson tweeted. "Social distance. If you can’t social distance, wear a mask. Wash your hands."
About 400 people attended the event, held in the Agriculture Building on the Missouri State Fairgrounds, Cattlemen’s Association Executive Vice President Mike Deering wrote on his Facebook page. Photos from the event show people shoulder-to-shoulder while dining, conversing in small, tight groups and few, if any, masks.
"The only way you are going to fight the virus is how you deal with it," Parson said in his speech at the event, a clip on YouTube shows.
"And you don’t need government to tell you to wear a dang mask," Parson said to cheers and applause. "If you want to wear a mask, wear a mask."
The cheers lasted about 15 seconds, and Parson said: "Now the media will have a big day with that one there."
The event is the annual fundraiser for the Cattlemen’s political action committee. During official events in St. Louis and Kansas City on Friday, Parson wore a mask but did not in a bill-signing event in Springfield.
"You can't expect anybody to enforce somebody staying 6 feet apart," he told reporters after signing a new law in Springfield. "You gotta take that upon yourself to do that. You gotta take it upon yourself on your personal hygiene. All of those things take some self-discipline among the people in the state, and I think for the large part, most people are trying to do the right thing."
Asked about his actions at the event, Parson spokeswoman Kelli Jones said she did not attend but that Parson wears a mask when appropriate.
"He must have felt pretty confident that he was social distancing and did not have to wear one," Jones said. "I wasn't with him that day but I know he consciously does everything he can to social distance and if he can't social distance, he wears a mask."
The Missouri Democratic Party attacked Parson for not wearing a mask at the event but did not mention the other politicians, Republican and Democratic, who were also maskless.
"Governor Mike Parson is the leader of our state and in charge of handling the state's response to COVID-19," party spokesmsan Kevin Donohoe wrote in an email to the Tribune. "The fact that the governor told Missourians to social distance and wear a mask on Friday and then the next day said the opposite at a campaign event is hypocritical at best. Being governor means leading by example — not talking out of both sides of your mouth."
Speaking to the Tribune, Deering referred a reporter to his Facebook post, that fired back at the critics.
"A vocal group of people are turning to hate for those who attended the event," Deering wrote. He said he had six conclusions — that those who are displaying hate need to attend church, that masks are voluntary and worried people should stay home, that he saw only one mask and he wonders why anyone would run for office and face the hate on social media.
"The government should not control our lives and thank God we have a Governor who agrees," Deering wrote.
Hartzler represents Pettis County in Congress and is shown in several photos without a mask. In a response to questions about the event, spokesman Danny Jativa noted that neither Pettis County nor Sedalia has a law requiring masks.
Hartzler wears one where required, including at the U.S. Capitol Building and military bases, he wrote.
"Local ordinances did not call for a mask and she chose not to wear one," Jativa wrote.
In an interview, Quade said she wore a mask into the building and while interacting with volunteers working at the event. She can be seen in several photos without a mask.
"I did take it off while eating and at various times throughout the event," Quade said.
Quade said she supports a proposed ordinance in Springfield requiring masks in public settings.
She also said she supports requiring masks for entry into state facilities like the Agriculture Building at the fairgrounds.
"If the numbers stay the same, I would say yes," she said.
Reisch in an interview said the attacks on Parson are an example of Democratic hypocrisy.
"Going through the food line, they weren't wearing masks," she said. "As soon as someone wanted to take their picture, they put on masks."
Reisch said she exercised her personal choice to not wear a mask.
"I have no problem with masks," she said. "If somebody wants to wear masks they can. If somebody doesn't, that is up to them."
Walsh hinted in a text that she has a medical reason to not wear a mask but she did not state the reason.
"As always, I respect the law," Walsh wrote. "Sedalia and Pettis County do not have a mask ordinance. As for any personal health reasons, that information is protected by law and is nobody's business."
She carried hand sanitizer, used it and shared it during the event, Walsh wrote.