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Health, Science, Environment

Coronavirus In St. Louis: You Ask, We Answer

The new coronavirus has been detected in dozens of countries, including the United States. It gets its name from its protruding spikes, which resemble a crown.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio
The new coronavirus has been detected in dozens of countries, including the United States. It gets its name from its protruding spikes, which resemble a crown.

Updated May 4 with more answers to audience questions

Coronavirus has disrupted many aspects of everyday life. Sporting events are postponed, businesses are closed and schools are empty as the region feels the impact of the pandemic. All of the changes lead to understandable confusion among residents in Missouri and Illinois.

We have been asking you, our audience, what you want to know about COVID-19 and you responded with excellent questions. We’re reporting out the answers and adding them as we go to three main Q&A guides:

Don’t see your question answered? Tell us by asking it here.

This week, we’re answering your questions about the rules for businesses reopening in Missouri and in our bi-state St. Louis region.

In Missouri, businesses are allowed to reopen with some restrictions on May 4, the first step in the governor’s “gradual” plan that he said will lead to economic recovery. However, the rules will vary by county. Most of our region will reopen at a slower pace, and restrictions on businesses and group gatherings are still in place in St. Louis and St. Louis County.

Illinois is under a statewide stay-at-home order.

Frequently asked questions

Missouri is reopening. Does that apply to St. Louis?

St. Louis will reopen at a slower pace. Missouri has given local officials the authority to impose stricter rules and regulations on businesses and social gatherings. St. Louis and St. Louis County have announced that stay-at-home rules will remain in place until the spread of the virus is reduced. 

As an example, let’s use a hair salon, where employees have to be within six feet of customers in order to provide the service. Whether a hair salon can reopen depends on where it is located:

  • In Missouri jurisdictions where there is still a stay-at-home order in place (such as St. Louis, St. Louis County and Kansas City), hair salons cannot reopen. 
  • In Missouri counties where stay-at-home orders have expired (such as Greene County), salons can reopen starting May 4. 
  • In Missouri counties that never had restrictions for businesses (such as St. Charles County), salons can open. 
  • In Illinois, the stay-at-home order is still in place, and salons cannot open. 

For now, Missouri’s rules allowing business reopenings or social gatherings do not apply in St. Louis or St. Louis County, which have their own, stricter regulations.
So what is allowed in Missouri? What are the rules now?

Businesses still have to follow social distancing requirements, but there are lots of exceptions. The requirements do not apply to people performing job duties that require close contact with other people, such as barbers, nail technicians and dentists. 

Businesses engaging in retail sales, including grocery stores, are subject to the same occupancy limits as laid out in the original social distancing order. For locations of less than 10,000 square feet, they should maintain 25% or less of the authorized fire or building code occupancy. For larger locations, it must be 10% or less. Employees and vendors are not included in the occupancy count. 

Movie theaters are allowed to open, and stadiums or other large-venue events can resume, but seating should be spaced in accordance with the six-feet distancing guidelines. This applies to concerts, sports events, funerals, weddings and school graduations.

If businesses have a waiting room, the order encourages each location to implement a system where people can wait in their vehicles or pre-schedule appointments. When this is not possible, it’s suggested to develop “public health and safety measures” using the order as a guide. 

Can I go to the dentist or the eye doctor?

Non-emergency health care, including eye and dental exams, is allowed to continue in Missouri counties without a stay-at-home order. Dentists and optometrists are not required to follow social distancing guidelines. 

What about restaurants? Can I eat in the dining room?

Restaurants are allowed to open dining rooms in Missouri counties without a stay-at-home order. Missouri has suggested making some changes, including disposable menus, limited self-serve buffets and more space between tables. 

Can I gather with my religious community?

Houses of worship are allowed to resume in-person services in Missouri counties without a stay-at-home order. However, it is suggested that handshaking and shared cups should be avoided, and streaming services when possible should continue. 

Do I have to wear a mask?

Illinois residents are required to wear a face covering in stores and other places where social distancing is impossible. Missouri residents are not required to wear a mask. 

St. Louis says all residents should wear a mask or face covering when they must leave their home and cannot maintain physical distance from others. 

St. Louis County says my job is essential; the state of Missouri says it is not. Which one do I go by?

When in doubt, abide by the most local order. Gov. Mike Parson has said Missouri’s city and county governments can set up their own restrictions to supplement the statewide order. When those state and local restrictions directly contradict each other, the local one takes precedence, a spokeswoman for Parson told St. Louis Public Radio. 

I live in Illinois and work in Missouri. Now with Gov. Parson wanting to reopen Missouri, my company is thinking about bringing us back in. However, Illinois is extending its stay-at-home order. Who am I supposed to listen to?

Missouri employers are permitted to require employees to come back to work after May 4 (unless they are located in a place with its own stay-at-home order, such as St. Louis and St. Louis County). If you work in Missouri and you refuse to go in for fear of being exposed to the coronavirus, you will not receive legal protections or be eligible for unemployment benefits. 

There are no restrictions on travel in and out of Missouri or Illinois. 

I live in St. Louis County but work in St. Charles County. My boss wants me to come back to the office. Am I violating the stay-at-home order if I go to work? 

No. You are not violating the St. Louis County stay-at-home order by leaving your residence to commute to work. You are permitted to travel to work.

Can I still get unemployment benefits if I refuse to go back to work out of safety concerns?

No. If you quit your job over general fear of COVID-19, you will not be eligible for unemployment or for any federally funded programs under the CARES Act, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. You are likely to be eligible for benefits only if you have been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine.

If you were temporarily laid off due to the pandemic and refuse to return to work when recalled, you will lose unemployment benefits unless: 

  • You have tested positive for COVID-19 and are experiencing symptoms.
  • You have recovered from COVID-19, but medical complications render you unable to perform essential job duties.
  • A member of your household has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • You do not have access to child care or transportation because of COVID-19. 

My family member was diagnosed with COVID-19, but my job wants me to come back to work. Am I eligible for unemployment if I refuse?

Yes. Missouri allows workers to apply for unemployment benefits if you or someone in your household has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or if you have recovered but are experiencing medical complications. 

Do I need to search for work if I am laid off due to COVID-19?

No. Weekly work search activities are not required if your unemployment claim is coronavirus-related.

When will St. Louis reopen?

There’s no set date yet. Officials have said they’re waiting for the risk of increased exposure to lessen.

Who is responsible for paying for safety and protective equipment for employees?

Business owners. Personal protective equipment, including masks, is not required by Missouri law. Face coverings are required in Illinois. 

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