LIBERTY, Mo. (AP) — All Missouri businesses and social events will be allowed to reopen next week so long as residents and business owners continue to practice proper social distancing requirements, Gov. Mike Parson announced Monday.
The governor, a Republican, said that the first phase of the reopening might look different in various regions of the state and that local governments would be able to impose stricter limitations if their officials believed it was necessary. But he said that as of Monday, May 4, Missourians would be able to return to all businesses. That includes restaurants, manufacturing plants, gyms and hair salons, along with churches, sporting events and social gatherings.
St. Louis, which has had a majority of the state’s cases, has not yet said when it will lift its order. Kansas City’s stay-at-home order is scheduled to continue through May 15.
There will be no limit on the size of social gatherings if people maintain the current six-foot social distancing efforts, but some businesses — such as retail stores — will be required to take extra steps, such as limiting occupancy, Parson 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 that many people would disagree with decisions made throughout the pandemic; but he said he believed Missourians would 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 that reopening would be gradual, like “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 state state reported 7,171 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 288 deaths on Monday, up from 6,997 cases and 274 deaths on Sunday. The actual number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest that 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 “hot spots” of the disease might spring up in the state.
Herb Kuhn, CEO of the Missouri Hospital Association, said the reopening would include a phased-in resumption of elective surgeries, which many people and doctors have postponed because of fear 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,” Kuhn said.
Nursing homes, long-term care facilities, retirement homes and assisted living homes, which have been hot spots 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 that the reopening would be successful only if Missourians used common sense, followedd social distancing guidelines and continue proper hygiene.
Dixon said businesses were 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.