Officials underline need for safety

By Mike Genet

Independence Mayor Eileen Weir is urging residents to follow the updated Jackson County public health orders that go into effect Friday.

“Given the rate of community spread in our region, medical professionals and public health officials are concerned that those rates will continue to grow following the Thanksgiving holiday,” Weir said in a release Thursday. “Indoor gatherings of any size with those outside of your immediate household pose an increased risk. Please follow the gathering limits, wear masks, practice social distancing and continue to regularly wash your hands.”

The Jackson County Health Department issued revised guidelines earlier this week in response to the metro area’s surge of COVID-19 cases.

Among the updated orders:

• All people age 5 and older should wear a mask (covering the nose and mouth) when in public places indoors and when outdoors where social distancing is not always possible. Masks can only be removed in a restaurant or bar when an individual is actively eating or drinking.

• Restaurants and bars must close by 10 p.m., and are limited to 50 percent capacity. Restaurants can continue delivery service after 10 p.m. 

• Public gatherings are limited to 10 people, unless the event host submits a gathering protocol at least seven business days in advance and it is approved by the county (or, in Independence, by the city). Such gatherings include, but are not limited to. non-essential business activities, weddings, funerals, lectures, meetings, parades, fairs, festivals, sporting events and performances. 

• Businesses and church services are limited to 50 percent capacity with appropriate social distancing.

• All people at a gym must wear a mask at all times and maintain social distancing.

County officials said enforcement for masks and closing times will be similar to prior complaints regarding public precautions. First, they let the business know of complaints and inform them how to correct it; follow-up actions mean a notification of non-compliance and ultimately a ticket to the business owner.

Weir said city staff and police won’t be handling one of the new guidelines – the 10 p.m. curfew for bars and restaurants.

“We’re not going to take on the enforcement of curfew; we don’t have the capacity to do that,” the mayor said. “We’ll communicate with the county that we’ll leave that up to the Sheriff’s Department.”

“If there’s a complaint regarding a business where employees are not wearing masks or business is refusing to enforce that, we’ll continue to enforce that with staff,” Weir said. “The police don’t enforce the health code. We have a system in place to do that through the Regulated Services Division.”

The city also has the ability to shut off utilities for continued non-compliance, though Weir said no case has reached that point.

The cities of Blue Springs and Grain Valley have not issued their own additional advisories since June. 

In Blue Springs, City Hall has not been open inside to the public, as residents conduct business virtually or use drop-off boxes. Grain Valley City Hall has been open to the public since mid-June, with social distancing and limited capacity.

Independence recently scaled back hours for the public at City Hall (8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays), police headquarters (same hours) and the Utilities Center (8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays).