Missouri will reopen businesses Monday, with guidelines

LIBERTY, Mo-(AP) — All Missouri businesses and social events will be allowed to reopen next week as long as residents and business owners continue to practice proper social distancing requirements, Gov. Mike Parson announced Monday.

The Republican governor said the first phase of the reopening might look different in various regions of the state and local governments will be able to impose stricter limitations if their officials believe it is necessary. But he said as of next Monday, Missourians will be able to return to all businesses, such as restaurants, manufacturing plants, gyms and hair salons, along with churches, sporting events and social gatherings.

Kansas City’s stay-at-home order is scheduled to continue through May 15. St. Louis, which has had a majority of the state’s cases, has not said when it will lift its order.

There will be no limit on the size of social gatherings if people maintain the current 6-foot social distancing efforts but some businesses — such as retail stores — will be required to take extra steps, such as limiting occupancy, he said.

“We are successfully flattening the curve,” Parson said. “With the help of all Missourians, our plan is working. The health care system is not overwhelmed and we are winning the battle.”

The news conference was interrupted several times by protesters. The governor acknowledged many people will disagree with decisions made throughout the pandemic but he said he believes Missourians will look back on the state and local efforts with pride.

The decision to reopen was made based on favorable data and approval from state health officials, but Parson warned reopening will be gradual and is “the turning of a dial, not the flip of a switch.

The first phase of reopening will last through May 31. State and health officials will re-evaluate the data later in May to determine the next step.

The decision comes as the state reported 7,171 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 288 deaths as of Monday, up from 6,997 cases and 274 deaths Sunday. The actual number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick.

Parson, along with state, health and business leaders, said the decision was based on four “pillars” that have been reached — expanding testing capacity across the state, expanding reserves of personal protective equipment, continued monitoring of the hospital and health care system capacity and the improved ability to predict where “hotspots” of the disease might spring up in the state.

Herb Kuhn, CEO of the Missouri Hospital Association, said the reopening will include a phased in resumption of elective surgeries, which many people and doctors have postponed because of fears of the coronavirus. Hospitals are prepared to return to restricted operations if needed but the good social-distancing efforts of state residents and planning by state and health officials “puts us in a place where we believe we can safely move to this next step.”

Nursing homes, long-term care facilities, retirement homes and assisted living homes, which have been hotspots in Missouri, must continue stronger guidance to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.

Parson and Rob Dixon, director of the Missouri Department of Economic Development, stressed the reopening will be successful only if Missourians use common sense, follow social distancing guidelines and continue proper hygiene.

Dixon said businesses are encouraged to implement safety measures such as temperatures testing, modifying work spaces, using staggered shifts and limiting access to common areas as the state continues to fight the virus for the foreseeable future.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

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