(Ashlyn O’Hara of Missouri News Network contributed to this story.)
A day after Missouri’s governor announced a phased-in plan to reopen the state’s businesses, the city of Branson issued a statement that city officials are working on a plan to reopen along with the rest of the state.
All businesses will be able to reopen — with certain restrictions — under the first phase of Gov. Mike Parson’s Show Me Strong Recovery Plan, which goes into effect Monday, May 4, and extends through May 31.
The plan, unveiled Monday, rests on four pillars: expanding testing capacity and volume in the state, expanding reserves of personal protective equipment, continuing to expand the state’s health care capacity if necessary and improving the ability to predict outbreaks using state data.
Parson said favorable data and approval from state health officials informed his decisions but that the process of fully reopening will be gradual.
“This will be the turning of a dial, not the flip of a switch,” he said.
A press release from the city of Branson echoed the governor’s statement while saying that “specifics of Branson’s plan are still being worked out.”
The release states that the city’s plan “will fall within the President’s and Governor’s guidelines.” It said city staff is working with the Taney County Health Department and the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce’s Re-Open Branson Task Force on a plan “suitable for Branson and its unique qualities as a tourist destination.
Currently, the Branson’s Public Gathering Ordinance is under effect until May 15. The release states that any Branson reopening plan needs to be approved by the city’s board of aldermen. Today (April 28) would have been the date of a regular aldermen meeting, but the aldermen canceled this meeting – and the two previous ones – last month. The next regularly scheduled meeting would be May 12, although aldermen do have the authority to call a meeting before then.
The release states that the city’s plans have been working as Taney County – as of Tuesday afternoon – had 10 reported cases of COVID-19 and one death.
The Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services reported 7,171 cases of COVID-19 in Missouri as of 2 p.m. Monday, including 288 deaths.
Parson said under the plan, hospitals can perform elective procedures they haven’t been able to perform and that as long as certain social distancing requirements are met, people can go back to church, restaurants can reopen and retail and small businesses can reopen. People at manufacturing businesses can also go back to work, and barbershops can reopen with protective guidance in place.
For example, retail businesses will have occupancy limits based on their size. Restaurants can reopen with restrictions on the space between tables and the number of people at any one table.
Nursing homes, long-term care facilities, retirement homes and assisted-living homes will continue to operate under significant restrictions, with access limited to those providing critical assistance or dealing with end-of-life circumstances.
Rob Dixon, director of the Missouri Department of Economic Development, said that reopening businesses is an important step in the recovery process, but that people must continue to be vigilant under a “new normal.”
“This is not a return to normal, instead it’s the beginning of a new normal, and all of us — our businesses, our communities, our citizens — are going to have to learn how to operate safely,” Dixon said.
Modifying physical work spaces, limiting employee access to common areas and continuing teleworking, if possible, are some measures businesses can take to limit the spread of COVID-19 as part of the state’s gradual reopening, Dixon said.
Parson said people have different views about what could have been done throughout the state in response to COVID-19 but that ultimately people should remember how many Missourians stepped up to work together in the face of uncertainty.
“At the end of the day, we’re going to look back on this, I believe, and Missourians are going to find out people made decisions they thought were right for the right time, for the right people across this state,” Parson said.
MO HealthNet Director Todd Richardson said Missouri has rapidly expanded its testing capacity and its access to testing supplies, and that these expansions have prompted the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services to expand its guidelines for who can be tested at the state public health laboratory. Richardson said that private physicians “should feel comfortable and encouraged to order tests through private labs, at their discretion.”
Additionally, Richardson said that this week the state’s partnership with local health agencies began a community sampling program in areas hit hard by COVID-19, which will give the state more data and a “snapshot of disease spread” in key areas.”
Richardson cited the launch of a personal protective equipment marketplace, which lets public and private buyers and sellers of PPE determine demand and supply of all types of equipment and was developed by Google. Richardson said that as of Monday morning, there were almost 900 buyers and 223 suppliers registered in the marketplace and that purchases will be used to supplement existing PPE supply chains overseen by the State Emergency Management Agency.
Health care capacity
Parson said that Missouri’s hospitals are stable and that all regions have shown reductions in the hospitalized COVID-19 cases except for St. Louis, which has seen an apparent stabilization but not reduction of cases.
Missouri Hospital Association CEO Herb Kuhn said that a “phased-in resumption of elective procedures” will focus on suppressing the spread of the virus, protecting patients and health care workers, and delivering safe care.
“The suspension of some of these procedures could be done safely and without risk to patients, but others may no longer be safe to postpone,” Kuhn said. “Ultimately, it’s a decision between a patient and their physician on whether to proceed with a medical procedure, but it’s important to understand that we find a balance between the risk between community exposure of COVID-19 and suspended health care for existing conditions.”
Kuhn also said that people should “not delay in seeking care” if they are having an emergency, including experiencing symptoms of life-threatening illnesses.
“Hospitals are safe and ready to help,” Kuhn said. “The sooner you seek care, the more likely it is that you’re going to have a better outcome.”
Click here to see the governor’s full Phase 1 guidelines.
The city of Branson’s coronavirus updates can be viewed here.
The city’s full press release is below:
The City of Branson is currently developing plans to safely reopen the City under the framework of Missouri Governor Mike Parson’s newly announced “Show Me Strong Recovery” Plan.
On March 23, 2020, the City of Branson passed an essential business and social gathering ordinance to flatten the curve and save as many lives as possible. Thanks to the actions of our citizens to practice social distancing, wearing masks, and virus protecting hygiene along with the fast action of our Board of Alderman; the City’s plans appear to be working as Taney County currently has 10 cases and one death.
The health and safety of Branson residents and visitors remains a top priority for the City of Branson. Using a variety of strategies such as the President’s Reopen America Again, American Enterprise Institute, Centers for Disease Control Pandemic Strategy, Department of Homeland Security Epidemic/Pandemic Plan, Missouri Governor Mike Parson’s Show Me Strong Recovery Plan, City of Branson professional staff are working with the Taney County Health Department and the Branson Chamber of Commerce’s Re-Open Branson Task Force to develop a plan suitable for Branson and its unique qualities as a tourist destination.
While the details of Branson’s specific plan are still being worked out, it will fall within the President’s and Governor’s guidelines and will likely involve “the turning of a dial, not a flip of a switch,” as the Governor put it in yesterday’s announcement. In the plan he laid out yesterday, the Governor called for flexibility between individual cities and counties.
“Some communities may be able to reopen at a faster rate while others may need to continue some guidance to keep the virus from spreading,” said Governor Mike Parson.
As the Governor stated yesterday, his plan will look different in each community and encouraged each city and county to have their own guidance. The City of Branson’s reopening plan will need to be approved and voted on by the Branson Board of Aldermen. This means it will go before the Board in a public Board of Aldermen meeting.
It’s important for Branson residents, community members, and businesses to adhere to Branson specific ordinances as long as they are in place to continue the momentum in keeping COVID-19 at bay. While the City would all prefer that COVID-19 never happened, City officials believe Branson’s measured approach to the pandemic will help us move forward with confidence that we will become a more resilient community in the future.
When it comes to reopening or anything relating to COVID-19, The City of Branson will continue to work in coordination with partner agencies, as well as the state and federal government, to monitor this rapidly evolving situation and to ensure our response actions are based on the latest facts. We will communicate updates to the Branson community as the situation changes and as we make additional decisions regarding our local response. For these updates, go to the “Coronavirus Updates” page on our website at http://www.bransonmo.gov/805/Coronavirus-Information.