COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
Restaurants that serve alcohol, cars and entertainment venues can stay open until midnight in Boone County starting Friday.
The Columbia/Boone County Health Department announced Wednesday the extension of the city and county coronavirus health orders with the modification related to bars, restaurants and venues. The order will expire March 4.
"We are making this change to allow our local establishments to serve their customers for a slightly longer period of time while still requiring masks and social distancing," city/county health director Stephanie Browning said in the release. "Many of our local businesses have done a great job of following the health orders and we ask them to continue doing so."
New case rates and hospitalizations are dropping in Boone County, like in Missouri as a whole and nationwide. Columbia Mayor Brian Treece said at a news conference Wednesday that new cases are half what they were just one month ago. The 14-day rolling average of new cases is the lowest it has been since October, which predated the fall and winter case surge, the health department said in the release.
Local health officials are also encouraged by the data indicating college student cases are not seeing a spike as they did in the fall of 2020.
"I will credit the university with their safe reentry program that they required for students coming back from Christmas break they have not experienced the same spike in cases that we saw back in august," Treece said.
The health order announcement came as Columbia and Boone County officials met Wednesday to discuss the current status of the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccine rollout in Columbia and Boone County and what the next health order could bring to the area.
Watch a replay of the briefing in the media player below.
Treece said Wednesday the decision to relax the provision of the health orders related to bars and restaurants is based on data.
"The trends that we are seeing are headed in the right direction," Treece said. "Our positive cases are half what they were just a month ago. The demand for drive thru testing is contracting … Our hospitals are thankfully experiencing the lowest number of hospitalizations they have seen for a while."
Browning said Wednesday that the rate of new cases has fallen for four straight weeks, hospitalizations have been trending down since the start of December and the number of Boone County residents hospitalized has fallen to levels not seen since before the fall surge.
And the surge in cases that might have come with students returning to the University of Missouri campus last month did not materialize, Browning said.
Treece said the health orders should be relaxed gradually, likening the process to a dial that is turned up instead of the flip of a switch.
"At this time have the evidence to slowly begin rolling back those COVID-19 protocols," Treece said.
Many restrictions remain in place, such as a requirement that people where masks when they can't maintain social distance. Restaurants are still required to space out tables and limit the size of groups. Capacity limits remain in place for businesses, events and sporting events.
Officials said residents have to continue taking precautions, especially with new, more contagious virus variants being found in the United States and in Missouri.
“More cases of COVID-19 will put more strain on our hospitals and health care resources and potentially lead to more deaths,” Treece said.
Boone County reported 304 active coronavirus cases Tuesday afternoon.
Coronavirus case rate has continued to decline in Missouri, according to the state's dashboard.
On Nov. 9, Missouri hit a peak with 7,612 new cases of COVID-19 in a single day. According to the most recent data from the state, only 321 new cases were recorded Sunday.
The coronavirus vaccine rollout continues across Missouri as a part of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services' new plan to distribute the vaccine through February.
Hospitals and organizations across the state are receiving more than half of the state's weekly vaccine allocation.
In central Missouri, University Hospital, Capital Region Medical Center and SSM Health St. Mary's in Jefferson City are all a part of the new distribution plan.
Dr. Robin Blount with Boone Hospital said the hope is to have mass vaccinations sites here in Boone county, and local health organizations are ready to assist with the process.
The state is currently vaccinating those eligible in Phase 1B Tier 2 of the vaccination plan. That group includes people older than 65 and those with certain underlying health conditions.
According to the state's COVID-19 vaccine dashboard, so far 562,616 Missourians have received the first doses of the vaccine, and 178,492 have received the second dose.