Updated 1:35 p.m. with comments from businesses
Many St. Louis County businesses closed because of the coronavirus will be allowed to reopen May 18 with restrictions on occupancy, County Executive Sam Page announced Friday.
Businesses, personal services and religious institutions that are in buildings of less than 10,000 square feet are limited to 25% occupancy. And buildings of 10,000 feet or more are limited to 10% occupancy.
“It will be awhile before anyone can ask the question, ‘When will things be normal again?’" Page said. “We know we’ll need a vaccine to have that. And we know that process is moving along very quickly. And we’re hopeful about what’s happening in our research facilities and production facilities. But for now, this is our new normal.”
Businesses will have to install barriers between customers and employees when possible. They also have to arrange hours of operation for individuals who are at risk of contracting COVID-19 and can deny services to people who refuse to wear face coverings.
And, in most circumstances, they’ll require employees and volunteers to wear masks, screen people for coronavirus and disinfect surfaces.
The order will require some businesses to remain closed. That includes day care for parents who aren't first responders, gyms and fitness centers, entertainment venues and sports courts. Bars that do not serve food will be limited to curbside and carryout service. Indoor and outdoor pools will also remain closed. Page said hair and nail salons will be allowed to open with mask requirements.
“It’s a gradual, thoughtful and deliberate process that will allow us to continue to move forward, will limit our risks of moving backwards and will recognize that we’ve done a great job of suppressing the spread of this virus in our community,” Page said.
St. Louis County has more COVID-19 cases and deaths than any other county in the state. While the statewide stay-at-home order was lifted, it allows counties and cities to have more stringent guidelines.
Places like Franklin, Jefferson and St. Charles counties have adopted the state plan that is less strict than what Page outlined on Friday. Asked how those different regulations would affect the region’s ability to mitigate the virus, Page replied: “It’s a variable. And it’s something we watch and we’re aware of.”
“There’s always going to be a border, a county border or a state border. There’s always going to be a transition zone,” Page said. “St. Louis city and County are much more differently affected than the state. So we’ll make a decision together that affects our area that’s much more densely populated. We think we’ve got a good plan going forward. We think this will be measured, cautious and careful. And we’ll watch the data and ease the restrictions in ways that are responsible.”
During an appearence Friday on St. Louis on the Air, St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson said the city's guidelines would largely mirror the county's.
"We're going to crack the door open," Krewson said. "We are going to open it a little ways, 25% to 30% of the way open, so that we can ease into this."
She did point to several big exceptions.
First, Krewson said that the city is in the process of figuring out how to reopen large venues like the St. Louis Zoo, Gateway Arch and St. Louis Art Museum.
"Those are large venues that exist in the city, and the county doesn't have something that's similar," she said. "So that will be a difference. They are not going to open immediately. But what we are going to do is work with those large venues over the next few weeks to review their plans. Because each of them is a little different, and they'll have a different plan. And then we'll review and approve their plan before they begin to open."
Krewson also said during a subsequent livestream on her Facebook page that bars that don't serve food would be able to open if they follow regulations laid out in the city's reopening plan.
Child care split
The other difference that Krewson outlined on Friday was that day cares would be able to reopen in line with Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. Currently, city day cares are only open for children whose parents are first responders.
"We are thinking they can reopen," Krewson said. "We expect that they will have fewer kids for a lot of reasons. Not everybody's going to go back to work on the 18th. And we're still encouraging folks that work in offices to telework — continue to work from home."
Page told reporters that restrictions on the county’s day cares, which also can only currently serve children of essential workers like emergency personnel and health care workers, remain unchanged.
“We understand we’ll need to make those facilities safe, and we have guidance to do so,” he said.
In response to a question about the status of summer camps, Page said the county “is not ready to discuss the opening of camps or congregated gatherings that are high risk.”
“We are going to watch the data over the next couple of weeks and continue to talk about that,” Page said.
Asked how workers with small children could realistically go back to work if they don’t have child care options over the summer, Page replied that “everything about this COVID-19 infection creates an enormous amount of uncertainty.”
“And there are many, many variables that we have to manage and try to find a path forward,” Page said. “None of them are going to be great. But we think we have a path forward that balances the risks of public health and exposure and transmission. Every decision we make is based on high risk or modest risk of transmission of COVID-19.
“You’ve identified one of our challenges that we’re working on, and that is child care,” he added. “And we’re going to provide some guidance on that. But there is no great solution. There will be an OK solution moving forward.”
Businesses can open soon, but will they?
Mark Whitener’s phone has been blowing up with text messages from clients hoping to book their first personal training appointment in more than a month.
Whitener said he plans to open his Clayton-based studio, Gateway CrossFit, on May 18 with restrictions. He’ll take on fewer clients, wear a mask at all times and add a half-hour between appointments to sanitize materials.
“My clients are my business. If they’re not healthy, my business doesn’t do well. I care about them, and I want the best for them,” he said. “That being said, it’s been tough over the last month and a half, and I am ready to get back to work.”
Whitener’s business is unique in many ways — he’s used to working with one or two clients at a time, and he can easily stay six feet apart from them.
That’s not the case for Lea Hau, who has operated Kim’s Nails & Spa in Jennings for more than 20 years.
“If you do nails, you can’t do six feet. You have to hold their hand,” she said.
Hau is accustomed to long, busy days at the salon, so staying home for more than a month without income has been hard. She has masks and plenty of cleaning products on hand, but the thought of reopening soon scares her.
“If they have a vaccine, then it’ll be safe,” she said. “If not, that makes me nervous. Every time you do a customer, you don't know who has the coronavirus.”
Hau said she plans to keep a close eye on the number of local coronavirus cases, and use that data to make a decision on reopening when it’s safe for her employees. She anticipates phasing in business, starting with appointments only for one or two customers at a time.
Ever since businesses first shut down, clients have continued to call Tendai Morris to get their hair done. She works as a hair stylist at Salon Prive in Creve Coeur and is the CEO of a haircare brand, Healthy Hair Solutions.
Morris said the salon where she works plans to reopen on May 18, but she won’t be there.
“As far as going back into the salon, that’s not at the top of my list, honestly, because it’s not safe,” she said.
Morris said the hair and beauty industry needs clearer safety guidelines.
“Being a barber, if you have to do somebody’s beard, you have to get up close to them right in their face to line it and make sure it looks nice,” she said.
Morris said she feels lucky she’s found another way to make money during the pandemic, by moving sales of her haircare products online and making local deliveries.
But until a vaccine becomes available, she said she’s not willing to risk her family’s health by working in the salon.
Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum
Follow Corinne on Twitter: @corinnesusan
Send questions and comments about this story to email@example.com