Cities loosen COVID-19 social distancing rules for bars, religious gatherings

By Mike Genet

Independence, like Kansas City, will loosen some of its public health guidelines starting Saturday, while Jackson County has no immediate plans to change its COVID-19 rules. 

Independence will remove gathering limits for faith and religious services, though faith groups should still urge masks, social distancing, regular hand washing and cleaning shared surfaces.

Faith organizations and entertainment venues also do not need to submit protocols for gatherings, and entertainment venues can have 50 percent capacity and submit protocols for possible gatherings beyond that.

Bars and restaurants can resume normal operating hours but remain limited to 50 percent capacity, with the usual masks and social distancing guidelines. There is no limit to the size of parties of patrons. 

Thanks to consistent caution from businesses and citizens, regional cases and hospitalizations for COVID-19 have declined, Independence Mayor Eileen Weir said in a release, but “it is important to note we are not yet out of the woods.”

Businesses will be responsible for monitoring distancing requirements, and the city says businesses found in violation could be faced with a 9 p.m. curfew, have their business license and permits suspended or revoked or face charges or utility shutoffs for repeated violations.

In Jackson County, bars and restaurants have been allowed to serve food and drinks until midnight, and all patrons must exit by 12:30 a.m. Capacity remains at 50 percent, with gathering protocols requested for gatherings of more than 10 people.

Jackson County Executive Frank White Jr. said he is evaluating the county’s guidelines with health and emergency leaders and that changes, if any, are “not expected until late next week.”

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said Friday the city will allow establishments to resume normal operating hours, as they no longer have to stop service at midnight. 

The city is also lifting its limit on gathering sizes provided all in attendance wear masks and are socially distant. Event hosts are no longer required to submit protocol plans with the city’s health department.

Local officials also announced that the Big 12 basketball tournament in downtown Kansas City next month will allow attendance of about 20 percent capacity.

In his statement, White said if any guidelines are relaxed, it’s important to still treat COVID-19 as a serious health threat, and masks, social distancing and hand washing are still necessary until most people are vaccinated.

“Throughout this pandemic, the county has worked hard to keep its guidelines consistent with neighboring jurisdictions to lessen confusion and ensure compliance among businesses and residents,” White said in a statement released after Kansas City’s announcement. “While we maintain that commitment, our decisions will continue to be guided by science and recommendations of public health experts.”