COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
Boone County's top health official on Thursday signed a reopening order that will be in effect indefinitely as Mid-Missouri continues to grapple with COVID-19.
Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services director Stephanie Browning was joined by Mayor Brian Treece and Boone County Presiding Commissioner Dan Atwill at a City Hall news conference to unveil the new order.
The order relies on social distancing rules that will limit the number of people inside businesses, workplaces and churches starting Monday when a statewide stay-at-home order is replaced with a state reopening order.
Watch a replay of the news conference in the player below.
Browning and Treece praised the work of county residents to reduce cases but said a balanced reopening is required.
"Today we’re able to take a small step forward in our measured response to coronavirus while beginning our economic recovery," Treece said. He noted the new rules will be in place through at least May 31.
The order is more strict than a statewide order that will take effect Monday in part because occupancy limits are extended to more businesses, Treece said.
Those limits on occupancy for businesses depend on the size of the building. Gyms, restaurants and personal care businesses such as hair salons will be allowed to reopen as long as they follow guidelines, Browning said.
Browning said pools will also be allowed to reopen if they follow guidelines set out by the health department. Churches, day cares and child day camps can also reopen under certain restrictions, she said.
Large venues, playgrounds, bars and movie theaters will remain closed under the order. Gatherings will continue to be limited to 10 or fewer people.
Browning said Boone County has made great progress but some other counties in the region have not. Columbia is a service area for much of the region, she said.
"While we’re not seeing as many new cases in Boone County, we are seeing significant outbreaks in ... Saline County, Pettis County and Moniteau County," Browning said.
The recommendations include that those who can work from home do so and for people at high risk of complications from COVID-19 to stay at home.
Atwill praised the order for being fair to county residents and businesses and stressed the need for a deliberate reopening.
Gov. Mike Parson this week released a reopening order that will govern the state starting Monday but said local governments can impose regulations more strict than the state's. Some areas, including Moniteau and St. Louis counties, have already done so.
During a Columbia Chamber of Commerce online meeting earlier Thursday, Browning said that Boone County is doing well while surrounding counties continue to see a rise in COVID-19 cases.
"We sit in a very delicate spot in Mid-Missouri," Browning said. "That we are on I-70 between all of these hotspots, and so I always have to remind people that it's one thing to look at Boone County but we have to look at the region as well."
Browning said public and business officials have talked about a way for the community to have a slow reopen that doesn't affect the gains Columbia and Boone County have seen in the fight against COVID-19.
"I know for many this has been economically devastating," Browning said. "And I want to make sure that as we move forward the economy can recover and we don't harm our population."
Browning said her department will emphasize the importance of social distancing and the physical separation of 6 feet because there is no vaccine or treatment for COVID-19.
Browning said that if businesses cannot provide 6 feet of separation in their work environment people should wear masks after those establishments are allowed to reopen.
Browning also suggests businesses put up signs showing what precautions they're taking.
"This is going to be our new normal I think for a long time," Browning said.
Browning said right now there are not enough tests available for employees to take before going back to work and that would be too expensive to enforce.
Browning said the Columbia/Boone County Health Department has set up an email address for businesses to contact regarding specific questions.
As of Thursday, the health department has confirmed at least 94 cases of COVID-19, three people have active cases, as well as one coronavirus-related death.
Since April 16, the health department has confirmed seven COVID-19 cases.