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White House Coronavirus Task Force Says Missouri Needs To Do More To Curb ‘Unrelenting’ Spread

Tyrone Tyner, a medical assistant at Truman Medical Center prepares a drive through patient for a COVID-19 test on Oct. 28.
Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Tyrone Tyner, a medical assistant at Truman Medical Center prepares a drive through patient for a COVID-19 test on Oct. 28.

The White House is recommending limiting restaurant indoor capacity to less than 25%. Kansas City metro health departments have only reduced capacity to 50%.

Missouri’s coronavirus spread is “exponential and unyielding,” according to the latest White House Coronavirus Task Force report to the state.

“There is now aggressive, unrelenting, expanding broad community spread across the country, reaching most counties, without evidence of improvement but rather, further deterioration,” the document states. “Current mitigation efforts are inadequate and must be increased to flatten the curve to sustain the health system for both COVID and non-COVID emergencies.”

The report, dated Nov. 15, paints a grim picture of the pandemic’s toll. Almost every county in the state has moderate or high levels of coronavirus transmission, and hospitals have seen new admissions increase more than 30% over the past week, according to the task force. Missouri is averaging 4,239 new cases a day, according to state data.

“Serious messaging and action are needed from the state leadership; recommending Missourians wear masks in public settings communicates the current risk level,” the task force states in its weekly report. Members include the vice president, CDC director and top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci. KCUR obtained a copy of the report Wednesday through a public records request.

According to the Missouri State Medical Association director of government relations, Heidi Geisbuhler Sutherland, the report underscores the need for a state mask mandate. The group of physicians has advocated for a masking requirement since July.

“We just hear consistently from our physicians who work in hospitals, that they are just exhausted and they are just stressed to the extreme,” she said.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson has repeatedly stressed that he believes cities and counties are in the best position to determine if a mask mandate makes sense. At a press conference last week, Parson said the broad support he received in November’s election is an indication that Missourians support a local approach.

Stricter guidelines

The recommendations also include limiting restaurant indoor capacity to less than 25%. That’s well below the new health orders Kansas City metro health departments enacted. Starting Friday, Kansas City restaurants will be limited to 50% capacity and will have to close by 10 p.m.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said the new regulations include a distancing requirement between tables which, paired with the capacity limit, helps spread out restaurant-goers. The health order requires at least six feet between tables. Indoor and outdoor dining groups can’t have more than 10 people.

“You want to make sure that everybody’s not congregated on one floor, even if 25% capacity allows it to kind of be that case,” Lucas said. “And so we think that this approach allows us to see that there is good distancing, that there is that real space there.”

Clay County Public Health Center Director Gary Zaborac said metro health officials agreed to the 50% capacity limit as a way to “potentially reduce the spread of COVID-19 right now.”

“We will be monitoring the situation closely over the next several weeks to determine its effectiveness,” Zaborac said in a statement.

If cases continue to spread, Lucas said he will likely take more drastic action than further reducing restaurant capacity.

“If the mitigation strategies that we've used aren't successful, and if we continue to see the rapid increase in cases, we would, unfortunately, have no choice but to look to a closure of indoor dining in Kansas City,” Lucas said.

The mayor is also urging Kansas Citians to avoid large gatherings and rethink holiday celebrations. The city is limiting in-person indoor gatherings to ten people.

“I'm not just asking for personal responsibility. You will be violating our orders if you're in a larger group than that, but I know that we won't be at every house and we won't be at every venue,” Lucas said. “But please for your family, for your community, say no to the same old Thanksgiving celebration this year.”

Editor's Note: The White House Coronavirus Task Force report is posted below.

Aviva Okeson-Haberman was the Missouri government and politics reporter at KCUR 89.3.
More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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