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Government, Politics & Issues

Republican St. Louis County Councilmen Want To Start Reopening Businesses Monday

St. Louis County Councilmen Mark Harder, right, and Tim Fitch, left, speak to reporters on April 30, 2020, about their plan to reopen businesses.
File photo | David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis County Councilmen Mark Harder, right, and Tim Fitch, left, speak to reporters on April 30, 2020, about their plan to reopen businesses in St. Louis County.

Three Republican members of the St. Louis County Council are putting forward a plan that would start easing a stay-at-home order on Monday — contending such a move is needed to save businesses from economic ruin.

But the GOP council members acknowledged they don’t have the power to follow through on that plan. That’s up to St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, who is expected to chart out the next steps for the county’s COVID-19 response in the coming days.

The first phase of the plan from councilmen Tim Fitch, Mark Harder and Ernie Trakas would align with Gov. Mike Parson’s proposal to reopen the state on Monday. Some of the highlights include:

  • Allowing health care, dental and vision facilities to be open for elective and routine procedures. Employees would have to wear masks and be screened daily.
  • Retail stores and commercial businesses could be open at limited capacity if their employees wear masks and are screened daily. Facilities that are more than 10,000 square feet could have 25% occupancy of the fire or building code. Buildings under 10,000 feet could have 10% occupancy.
  • Houses of worship and funeral homes could be open under the same occupancy guidelines as retail establishments.
  • Bars and restaurants serving food could be open if social distancing guidelines are followed and employees wear masks and are screened. Bars and other entertainment venues could be open with the same occupancy restrictions as retail shops or houses of worship.
  • Gyms and fitness centers could reopen if patrons follow social distancing guidelines and employees are screened and wear masks.
  • Gatherings would be limited to less than 50 people.

After May 31, these restrictions would gradually be lifted over the course of June. The full plan can be found here.

At a press conference on Thursday, Fitch and Harder said businesses needed a defined timetable amid widespread economic uncertainty. Unemployment data released Thursday showed that more than 30 million people nationwide are out of work.

“The businesses of St. Louis County need a plan,” said Harder, R-Ballwin. “If they choose to go with our plan, that’s great. But if they have their own plan, we hope that the administration comes forward with their plan rather quickly.”

The three council members met with Page on Thursday. Fitch said that while there may be agreement on the substance of the plan, there could be differences of opinion on when the timeline should start.

“Basically we recognize that the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County have been hit harder than other areas of the state with the number of COVID cases,” said Fitch, R-St. Louis County. “We understand that. And the plan takes that into account and allows us to adjust the plan as necessary.”

“What we’re talking about is looking at it holistically. Not just a health issue. We recognize it’s a health issue,” he added. “It’s also a humanitarian issue, and it’s an economic issue.”

In a statement, Page spokesman Doug Moore said the county executive had “a productive conversation this morning with the three council members, and we will continue to listen to their perspectives.”

“We will have more information tomorrow and at our Monday, Wednesday and Friday press conferences,” Moore said.

Page has said he plans to keep the county’s stay-at-home order in place past Monday. That’s the day when Parson’s new stay-at-home order that eases restrictions on businesses is set to go into effect. 

On Wednesday, Page announced a new initiative in conjunction with the St. Louis County Department of Health about preparing to reopen — with guidance around implementing social distancing practices.

"We will be working closely with local businesses organizations to make sure best practices are adopted, workers are protected, and customer safety is prioritized," Page said in a statement. "Reviving the economy safely is one of our top priorities, and this initiative will make sure local businesses are prepared to reopen." 

There have been 3,136 cases of COVID-19 in the county and 162 deaths, according to the county health department. 

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

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