Parson prison visit pic

Missouri Governor Mike Parson, center, visits the Western Missouri Corrections Center on Thursday in Cameron.

Missouri Governor Mike Parson visited a prison in Cameron Thursday and touted the administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic even as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise across the state and in its correctional systems.

Visiting for prisoners at the Western Missouri Correctional Center has been suspended multiple times, while a prisoner housed at a St. Joseph prison previously alleged to News-Press NOW that he had seen little mask usage by corrections officers at that facility.

“Well I think the policy today is to wear a mask,” Parson said. “We’ve always recommended wearing a mask when we started back in March.”

During the visit, which was closed partially to the news media, Parson said most of the people he encountered did wear masks. A News-Press NOW reporter saw an apparent prison official shake Parson’s hand before sharing a challenge coin with him. Everyone in view was wearing a mask.

According to Missouri Department of Corrections data, 12 staff members at WMCC currently have COVID-19.

“And for the most part, the officers I met today (did a good job) on the mask up and I think it’s important to do that,” Parson said.

As of Sept. 4, more than 950 inmates across Missouri’s prison system had tested positive for COVID-19. One of the earliest COVID-19 cases and deaths in Buchanan County came from a prisoner transferred from Cameron.

According to Missouri Department of Corrections data, there is one active case of COVID-19 at a facility in Maryville and another at WMCC where Parson visited. Two other active cases have been reported at the facility in St. Joseph.

However, compared to other states, Parson said Missouri is managing the virus at its institutions well. According to Kansas Department of Corrections data, the state is battling 306 active COVID-19 cases between staff and prisoners. In contrast, Missouri has 466 active cases across the same categories.

“We’re probably one of the model states in the United States,” Parson said. “So I wanted to come here and thank all of the employees. But every day is a work in progress.”

Matt Hoffmann can be reached at matt.hoffmann@newspressnow.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NpNowHoffmann.