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The latest news from every corner of the state, including policy emerging from Missouri's capitol.

Gov. Parson Appoints Paula Nickelson as New Acting Director of Missouri DHSS

Paula Nickelson answering media questions at the afternoon press conference.
Gov. Parson Facebook Page
Paula Nickelson answering media questions at the afternoon press conference.

For two months, Missouri has been without a permanent state health director at the helm. Today, a second person was named as 'acting director' of the state agency, to temporarily hold the seat.

On February 1, Governor Mike Parson temporarily appointed Robert Moore to lead the DHSS as acting director, after Don Kauerauf resigned from his position at the end of January.

Kauerauf resigned due to confusion surrounding his stance on COVID-19 masking and vaccination policies.

An anti-vaccine rally was held at the state capitol during Kauerauf’s confirmation hearing.

Rallyists claimed Kauerauf wanted the state to be 100% vaccinated and protested a potential forced vaccination policy.

In a press release from the Governor's office, Parson went on to clear up misinformation surrounding Kauerauf spread by the rally group.

Parson explained that the state of Missouri has always resisted COVID-19 mandates, prevented federal government overreach, and fought COVID-19 vaccine requirements, and that the individual selected for the position would follow those same views.

“To set the record straight, Don is strongly pro-life and anti-abortion and against government mandating mask wearing and COVID-19 vaccinations. Those were his views and beliefs when I appointed him, and they remain today,” said Parson.

Although Parson left Kauerauf the opportunity to resume his position, he announced his resignation on February 1.

Gov. Parson speaking at Monday's Press Conference on livestream.
Gov. Parson Facebook page
Gov. Parson speaking at Monday's Press Conference on livestream.

On March 1 Gov. Parson held a press conference at the State Capitol to announce a new DHSS Acting Director.

Parson began the press conference by speaking on the current state of the pandemic in Missouri.

“We're excited to bring on a new leader for this new chapter at DHS us, especially as COVID has significantly declined here in Missouri, since the Omicron’s peak in January, cases have decreased to less than 1,000 per day, down by nearly 18,000. COVID hospitalizations have fallen from nearly 4,000 per day to approximately 1,300,” said Parson. “We are in a better place today than at any point since the pandemic started because we have more tools than ever before available to prevent serious illness from COVID-19 and have always taken a balanced approach.”

Parson then appointed Paula Nickelson as the new Acting Director of the DHSS of Missouri, expanding that Paula has continuously worked as a key player in Missouri's COVID-19 response efforts throughout the pandemic.

Nickelson has worked with the DHSS for over 22 years and previously held the title of Deputy Director of the DHSS.

Nickelson clarified her approach and response to the pandemic, stating “All public health interventions that seek to mitigate any disease or condition are best implemented as comprehensive strategies, a layering approach to mitigation with regard to COVID, masks, vaccine, social distancing, and therapeutics all play a role,” said Nickelson. All are useful and should be available to each of us as we make personal choices about how best to safeguard our own health and the health of our family members and consultation with our personal physician.”

After her induction, Nickelson answered media questions and responded to her appointment after Don Kauerauf’s resignation.

“Public health is a greater mission than any one human being, and while I had interactions with the Director Kauerauf, I found him to be qualified and professional, compassionate… Certainly in the opportunity that arose afterwards I was interested in assuring that our public health system did not falter and we wanted to move forward quickly,” said Nickelson.

Nickelson continued to speak on the responsibility of the government to be open with where policy lies not only with COVID-19 stances, but all public health knowledge.

“I believe that government should be transparent. I believe public health should be transparent. So we will work very hard at communication strategies with all of our partners as well as with the public to assure that the public understands what's going on with public health,” said Nickelson. “Any public health measure is best served as a comprehensive measure, and that's true with COVID as well. Vaccines play a very important role as masks, as to social distancing, as do therapeutics.”