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Kansas City Mayor Announces Relaxation Of COVID-19 Rules Even As Governor Extends Stricter Order

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File photo by Lisa Rodriguez
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KCUR 89.3

Lucas plans to enforce his rules, which allows businesses to increase their capacity to 50%, over more restrictive measures announced by Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on Thursday.

Just a few days before his current guidelines meant to help slow the spread of the coronavirus were set to expire, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas announced the next phase of his reopening plan.

Beginning Sunday, businesses can increase their capacity threshold from 10% to 50%, Lucas said. His new order will expire on July 5.

"Just because anything can open doesn't mean that you have to go," Lucas said. "And so I'll continue to preach caution to everyone in Kansas City."

Lucas' announcement came ahead of a separate announcement by Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, who extended Phase One of the state's recovery plan until June 15.

Under that plan, retail locations less than 10,000 square feet must limit occupancy to 25% and locations larger than that to 10%.

Under the state order, municipalities can implement stricter measures, not more relaxed ones. But Parson has repeatedly said enforcement of the rules falls to local health departments.

A spokesperson for the mayor told KCUR that as long as they’re enforcing the rules, it will be the 50% capacity rule, not the state’s 25%, that takes precedence.

Lucas said Thursday that while Kansas City is still seeing new cases of COVID-19, there's been no evidence to suggest any new outbreaks stemming from restaurants, salons or other establishments that are currently open.

Still, he acknowledged that not everyone will be happy with his new order.

"There are people that on one side say, 'You should have everything open, we should all be free, you're terrible and a tyrant,'" Lucas said.

"And then there are people on the other side that say, 'Blood will be on your hands, you're terrible and not doing enough,' and both have their points," Lucas said.

Lucas said businesses should not force employees with compromised immune systems, are caring for someone infected with COVID-19 or have lost childcare due to the pandemic, to come to work.

He also encouraged people to stay home whenever possible and continue to exercise caution.

As of early May, businesses have been allowed to operate as long as they limit the number of customers inside to 10 people or 10% of capacity. They were also encouraged to get the names and contact information of customers inside for longer than 10 minutes.

Restaurants were allowed to open May 15 as long as tables are spaced 10 feet apart, employees wear protective face coverings, and tables and chairs are sanitized between each use.

Those guidelines were set to expire on May 31.

While the capacity limits have been relaxed, Lucas is still encouraging businesses to keep a log of customers on hand for at least 30 days.

Under the new order, six feet of distance must be maintained between "areas of service" such as tables, booths and chairs. Restaurant servers, barbers and hair stylists must also continue to wear masks or face coverings.

Buffet-style food service and self-serve stations will still be prohibited, but the ban on bar seating appears to be lifted, as long as parties are separated by six feet.

Large gatherings such as church services, weddings and performances may continue, as long as they adhere to the 50% capacity limit. Outdoor gatherings will not be limited, as long as social distancing measures are in place.

Lucas also said the city will step up enforcement of social distancing. Lucas said in addition to reports of large gatherings at the Lake of the Ozarks over the holiday weekend, he heard examples of bars in Kansas City allowing hundreds of people on patios.

"I don't think people understand yet that we actually care about our social distancing rules," Lucas said.

Businesses that do not comply could have their business or liquor licenses revoked. The order will be primarily enforced by the health department, the regulated industries division and, if necessary, the police and fire departments.

Thursday's announcement comes at a time when neighboring jurisdictions are changing their reopening plans.

After Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly phased out a statewide reopening plan Tuesday, Johnson County announced it would impose no further restrictions, although health officials are still encouraging residents to stay home.

Lucas acknowledged that complicated his own plan.

"I think its too early to abandon all rules," Lucas said.

In Wyandotte County, officials are sticking with Kelly’s original plan, which keeps bars, swimming pools and summer camps closed until at least June 8.

Jackson County, meanwhile, will amend its reopening plan to comply with state guidelines. Restaurants, gyms, barber shops and libraries will be allowed to open up to 50% capacity after June 15.

Lucas' new order also comes as Kansas City continues to see more cases of COVID-19.

As of May 27, Kansas City, Missouri, had identified 1,050 cases of the disease, with 207 new infections since May 15, when restaurants reopened. That’s a decrease in new infections compared to the previous two-week period; clusters identified at a senior care facility and an area meat packing plant in early May likely contributed to the earlier spike.

Still, Lucas said Kansas City's rates of infection and death are lower than cities of similar size across the country.

"Although we have too many cases and too many deaths, I want to say thank you to the people of Kansas City for allowing us the opportunity to actually make sure that we were stemming the tide of the spread of COVID-19," Lucas said.

Lucas also announced Thursday that Clay County is in the process of transferring more than $11 million to Kansas City from its portion of federal aid through the CARES act.

Due to a rule that only allowed direct funding to cities that are larger than 500,000 people, Kansas City did not receive federal aid. Lucas said he expects to see the money from Jackson County soon.

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