While Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said Wednesday that many businesses around the state can start to reopen May 4 after the statewide stay-at-home order expires, area leaders say local directives that are more stringent would still apply.
That means in Independence, Jackson County and some other parts of the metro area, the current stay-at-home orders through May 15 will still apply.
"In every case, the most restrictive law is the one that prevails," Independence Mayor Eileen Weir said Thursday. "Our tendency is to be in alignment with Jackson County and Kansas City, just because of population and proximity."
Clay and Cass counties announced Wednesday they would roll back their orders from May 15 to May 3, though the Kansas City limits extend into both counties.
Jackson County Executive Frank White Jr. said he is still focusing on the May 15 date.
"I haven’t seen all of his guidelines yet, but he’s pretty much left it up to the county to go with stricter deadlines," White said, referring to Parson. "I think he’s more focused on rural areas, and he’s letting us handle the more urban areas. So we are staying with what we had first."
Weir said a group of 25 to 30 officials from around the metro area – elected officials, city staff, public health directors, etc. – meet once or twice a week to discuss the region’s coronavirus response efforts and public health restrictions.
"It’s all somewhat flexible," Weir said Thursday. "The data we got today showed we might have just had the peak."
"There’s a lot of good discussion taking place in terms of understanding the health ramifications, the political pressures various people are under, individual freedoms. (May 15) is a date we chose based on the best information at the time. Just because we adapted to a different high-water mark doesn’t mean the crisis is over."
White said he started putting together a committee Wednesday to determine when it’s best to reopen. The committee will consist of community members and health professionals from the county, he said, adding that he will rely mainly on health professionals.
"It could be bad if we open businesses too early," he said. "Everything we’ve done so far has been based on what health professionals have told us. Health professionals should lead the way for us in this. … We’re just focusing on what the data is telling us."
Weir said she’s looking forward to Parson’s anticipated address Friday on how the state will outline guidance for reopening.
"Even if they’re permitted to open, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to or that they will be able to open then," Weir said.
With local hospital capacity seemingly in good position right now, any decision on lifting restrictions will be based on sufficient testing and contact tracing and available personal protective equipment, Weir said. While every city and county is trying to have as few cases as possible, "Everybody’s balancing that with, if we’re getting back, we have to have something to get back to."
At the same time, she cautions, there’s no crystal ball to predict how case numbers will fluctuate, if at all, when officials lift restrictions. Metro area officials have not discussed extending stay-at-home past May 15.
"I think people should be prepared that if we loosen up a bit, there may have to be a tightening," Weir said, "and that’s going to be harder."
White agreed that reopening will be contingent on the success of testing and contact tracing.
"Before we do anything we have to get more testing and contact tracing done," he said. "Until we get that done, it will be difficult to go back to business as usual. If we do it too early, we’re just going to have to redo everything we have just done."
White said he has no timeline yet on whether the county will extend the stay-at-home order beyond May 15. He said no matter what the decision is, it will be difficult and will involve continued social distancing.
"We’re just starting the process of identifying businesses that can come back online on May 15," he said. "... These decisions are not made easily, especially when you’re dealing with people’s livelihoods and, frankly, their mental health."
"Everybody has had to make a lot of adjustments, and for the most part everyone has done a great job and is doing the best that they can under the circumstances. I understand the anxiety – it’s not an easy thing to do. I haven’t been able to see my grandkids in weeks."
"The main goal for everybody is to stay healthy."