Another attempt at looser COVID-19 rules

By Mike Genet

Two Independence City Council members are making another attempt to have the city challenge Jackson County’s pandemic-related restrictions. 

Two weeks after a council majority voted down such a challenge, Mike Steinmeyer and Mike Huff have again proposed a resolution that the city – as a show of support for local businesses and organizations – ask Jackson County to remove restrictions on businesses and gatherings, except for wearing masks and continuing social distancing measures. Their item was on Monday’s council agenda.

If the county does not do so, the resolution states, the city would form its own less restrictive recovery plan. The Independence Advisory Board of Health essentially recommended against the item last Thursday with its own resolution supporting the county’s current public health measures.

Two weeks ago, Steinmeyer and Huff proposed a similar resolution, though that one included a threat of litigation and did not explicitly mention masks and social distancing. No other council member supported it, though, even after removing the mention of possible litigation.

Steinmeyer and Huff had insisted two weeks ago their resolution wasn’t about making any political statement or downplaying the seriousness of the virus, but rather to support small businesses and their employees and to jumpstart more robust dialogue with the county. Both said they wear masks because it’s the right thing to do, and Steinmeyer noted that COVID-19 had even gone through his own household during the pandemic.

“This resolution was meant to shake up Independence before many businesses shut their doors,” Huff said. “We’re talking about opening up small businesses here so they can stay open.”

“I’m not asking anybody to not wear the mask,” Steinmeyer said. “I just want to have a dialogue, that’s all. My heart has always been to get the county to talk to us.”

The Board of Health wrote in its resolution that it urges Missourians to remain vigilant regarding masks, social distancing, washing hands and limiting social gatherings.

“Many other nations around the world have a much lower death rate due to the sustained implementation of these key provisions, and we urge everyone to remain focused on the importance of conquering the virus,” the board wrote, adding that one of its own members only recently returned home after weeks in the hospital battling COVID-19 and faces long recuperation.

With the metro area’s continuing rise in cases, the board said it is worried the area medical system could get overwhelmed if that trend continues.

“Recently, reports are that the hospitals in the region are filling up while physician, nursing and medical staff are exhausted from the additional strain of managing serious Covid patients,” the board wrote.

Jackson County’s current restrictions call for 50 percent capacity (as allowed by social distancing) in most buildings, with indoor and outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people permitted based on county approval of a submitted plan.

In casting her no vote two weeks ago, Mayor Eileen Weir said trying to formulate public health precautions and recovery policies in the metro area has been anything but easy, but continuing the conversation is important. 

“It’s extraordinarily complex, all the things that have to be considered,” she said. “I don’t think anybody thought seven months later we’d still be under a state of emergency, and there doesn’t appear to be any end in the sight, for the time being.”

“It’s a very messy process to coordinate with all our surrounding cities and our surrounding counties and two states. It’s not perfect, and there’s certainly things we’d rather see differently, and I hope those conversations can continue to take place. We want our businesses to survive and thrive.”