Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas and Jackson County Executive Frank White Jr. have faced strong push back against their policies for reopening churches and businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.
White announced reopening plans for Jackson County on May 6. Most of the city limits of Kansas City is in Jackson County. Many cities in eastern Jackson County are suburbs of Kansas City, such as Blue Springs, Grandview, Independence, Lee’s Summit, Oak Grove and Raytown, as well as smaller municipalities, such as Greenwood and Sugar Creek
After facing strong opposition to his mayoral order of April 29 from restaurant owners and those representing other businesses, Lucas revised and reduced those restrictions on May 4. The Metro Voice reported on May 2 that the mayor’s initial 10/10/10 rule required non-essential and non-exempt businesses and places of worship to adhere to strict reopening requirements. Churches and other places of worship and non-essential businesses would have been limited to no more than 10 congregants or customers to 10 percent of their building occupancy permit, according to the fire code.
The mayor’s controversial 10/10/10 rule issued on April 29 also would have required those ecclesiastical and commercial entities to collect and keep lists of names and contact information with arrival and departure times of all patrons for contact tracing purposes in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. If a person tested positive for the COVID-19 virus and had attended a church or patronized a business, those entities would have been expected to contact persons on those lists who might have been exposed. If those entities did not make the tracing contacts, the county could have required those lists to make those contacts in the interest of public health. Both the April 29 and May 4 versions of the order contained the threat of possible fines, imprisonment and suspension of occupancy and business licenses for non-compliance.
The mayor’s 10/10/10 Rule set off a firestorm of controversy and opposition. Local and national faith leaders, legal experts and watchdog organizations questioned if the possibility of faith communities having to turn over such lists might be mishandled, misused or abused by the government. Some even called it reminiscent of Nazi tactics against Jews during the Holocaust.
Owners of many restaurants and other businesses have been forced to close their dining rooms or close completely for nearly two months. Many restaurant owners have said they cannot break even or stay in business without the capacity to operate with at least 50 percent of occupancy.
Regarding restrictions on places of worship, one woman echoed the sentiments of many when she commented on Facebook in response to the Metro Voice story on May 2: “I don’t even want to set foot in a church at this point if pastors start doing this,” referring to taking names, contact information and arrival/departure time. “This is probably what they wanted.”
After facing strong public opposition, Lucas issued an amended order on May 4, reducing the list keeping requirement to a voluntary recommendation for places of worship and businesses. One pastor told the Metro Voice, “we won’t be taking names at the door.”
On May 10 Lucas held a press conference on the steps of City Hall in Kansas City. He announced further reductions in restrictions for restaurants and non-essential businesses after his initial order on April 29 and revisions to it on May 4.
Most notable among the May 10 changes were those affecting restaurants and non-essential businesses in Kansas City. He reaffirmed that “all non-essential businesses by and large will be able to reopen as of May 15.”
During the last week Lucas has met with area restaurant members of the Missouri Restaurant Association and said he continued to receive input over the last weekend. “The guidelines we have announced today seek to protect restaurant patrons and employees as our region continues to grapple with the effects of COVID-19,” he said.
According to the new municipal rules, restaurants and other non-essential businesses will be able to reopen without the May 4 occupancy restrictions. The previous occupancy rules would have limited restaurants in Kansas City, Mo., to 10 persons or 10 percent of occupancy, whichever number is greater.
The new rules announced by Lucas drop previous occupancy restrictions for restaurants and some non-essential businesses within the city limits of Kansas City, Mo. The new rules require tables in restaurant dining areas to be 10 feet apart and chairs to be 6 feet apart, regardless of occupancy limits permitted by fire codes. The modified rules also require restaurant employees to wear face masks, and the use of disposable menus is encouraged. Dining surfaces, including tabletops, seats, chairs and highchairs, and laminated menus are to be sanitized between customers. Disposable menus are encouraged, and all surfaces in restaurants are to be cleaned often. Bar seating will still be banned to uphold social distancing, while buffets and other self-service food and drink dispensing will continue to be prohibited under the new rules.
Lucas also changed previously stated rules for gyms, fitness centers and health clubs, saying they can reopen as early as May 15. He clarified that fitness facilities may be subject to additional guidelines from the Department of Health. Other businesses which were considered non-essential will continue to be subject to the controversial 10/10/10 rule that Lucas put in place.
The 10/10/10 rule continues to limit other non-essential businesses and churches in Kansas City, Mo., to no more than 10 people or 10 percent of occupancy, whichever is greater. The sustained rule also recommends that names and contact information to be collected for persons in the premises for more than 10 minutes on the voluntary versus mandatory basis.
Outside recreational facilities in Kansas City, Mo., such as dog parks and playgrounds will also be allowed to open May 15. Sports courts and fields for youth and adult league and team activities will be allowed to reopen as well, subject to the 10/10/10 Rule and social distancing guidelines. According to the city of Kansas City, these restrictions will be in effect until May 31 and could be extended.
Interestingly, the hyperlink published in our story on May 7 to the latest order by Lucas has been removed from the city’s website. The graphic on that page reads “Road Closed.” The April 29 and May 4 versions of the mayor’s amended orders had been posted on that page but have since been removed. The Metro Voice story on May 7 also hyperlinked to an FAQ page on the KCMO website explaining the city’s policies and plans for the soft reopening. The city has also disabled that with a message stating, “Page Not Found” and redirecting to the home page.
That disabled page also suggests “why not send us information that may help us resolve this issue,” invoking the hesitation by some to give their name and contact information to the government on these issues. If the mayor’s latest order reappears on the webpage, the Metro Voice will update it in this article.
Meanwhile in eastern Jackson County, credible sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity, have told the Metro Voice that a change of position by Jackson County is forthcoming and expected to be announced — possibly as early as May 12. Our sources say that the change in Jackson County policy anticipates the county will drop its church restriction allowing no more than 10 people in places of worship. Sources also say the change in revised county plan will allow churches to reopen this Sunday, May 17.
It remains unclear if the county policies for restaurants or other businesses will change as they have in the city of Kansas City, Mo. As reported in the Metro Voice on May 7, Jackson County announced on May 6 that businesses under 10,000 square feet could allow up to 25 percent of occupancy, and those with over 10,000 square feet could allow 10 percent of occupancy.
Jackson County’s current phase one plan also mandates “gyms, fitness centers, health clubs, outdoor playgrounds, sports courts” to remain closed. It is yet to be seen if changes in county policy will follow the lead of Lucas and Kansas City, Mo., in allowing these gathering places to reopen.
The above restrictions from Jackson County may change as early as today. If you would like to receive updates on this developing story, we invite you to like and follow the Metro Voice Newspaper on Facebook.
–Dwight Widaman | Metro Voice