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Cole County's stay-at-home order will be allowed to expire at 12:01 p.m. Saturday as a first step in the recovery from the COVID-19 emergency, officials said Tuesday.
Cole County Health Director Kristi Campbell made the announcement at a Cole County Commission meeting Tuesday.
Effective Saturday, restaurants, bars and clubs in Cole County can be open for indoor dining as long as there are 10 or fewer people gathered together and non-family members remain at least 6 feet away from each other. The 10-person limit includes employees and customers.
The county and its residents are still under restrictions in the statewide stay-at-home order, which Missouri Gov. Mike Parson extended through May 3 last week.
The state's order means residents should not leave their homes unless necessary and should practice social distancing when they go out for essential activities such as work, grocery or convenience stores, warehouse stores; medical appointments or the pharmacy; getting food from restaurants or deliveries; and going outside to exercise.
After the county's stay-at-home order expires, some non-essential businesses, such as clothing retailers, florists and home decor shops, can be open, Campbell said, as long as they comply with the social gathering and physical distancing requirements — no more than 10 people can occupy a single space, including employees and customers.
Gyms, also considered non-essential businesses, would have to follow the same social distancing requirements.
Other non-essential businesses, such as hair salons, may remain closed because they cannot be performed while maintaining physical distance of 6 feet. Guidance as to what will be allowed in such situations after the statewide order expires May 3 has not been released, Campbell said.
The statewide order allows people to visit a place of worship, but churches, too, may not have more than 10 people in the building at a time, and those people must stay 6 feet apart.
The statewide order sets restrictions for essential businesses based on retail locations' fire or building code occupancy. Smaller locations — less than 10,000 square feet, must maintain 25 percent or less of their authorized occupancy. Retail locations larger than 10,000 square feet must maintain 10 percent or less of their authorized capacity.
Cole County's stay-at-home order began March 28 and was extended April 8, after confirmed cases of COVID-19 were attributed to community spread, meaning health officials couldn't track how the patients had contracted the coronavirus. Other factors that led to the order included that travelers were returning home from spring break trips and there were more than 200 pending tests in the local health care system, Campbell said.
"We are now down to seven to 30 pending tests at a time, so we don't have 200 like we did earlier," Campbell said. "There's not as many people getting tests and not as much unknowns. Most of our cases have been tied to someone having contact with a positive case. Plus, people haven't been traveling."
Cole County has reported 45 positive cases of COVID-19, with nine remaining active and 35 patients who have recovered, as of Tuesday afternoon. One resident has died from the virus.
Campbell said the local health care system is not "overwhelmed beyond their capacity" in caring for patients and the frequency of positive cases has decreased.
Jefferson City's two COVID-19 testing sites had acquired 1,810 samples to send off to labs for analysis, as of Monday. Both sites opened March 23.
Capital Region Medical Center has collected 1,215 samples from people for COVID-19 tests (267 since last week), according to Director of Marketing Lindsay Huhman. Of those, 75 have come back positive and 27 are pending.
St. Mary's Hospital had acquired samples from 595 people for COVID-19 tests (118 since last week), according to Jessica Royston, marketing and communications manager for SSM Health Mid-Missouri Region. Thirty-four of the samples have come back positive, while 19 results were pending Tuesday.
Positive cases are reported to the counties where the patients undergoing the test live.
"We anticipate that there may be an increase in positive cases as specific restrictions are lifted," Campbell said. "After consultation with both major health care providers in Cole County (St. Mary's Hospital and Capital Region Medical Center), they have reported adequate capacity and testing capabilities. We still advise the community to do everything possible to protect themselves and others.
"Stay home if you are sick, wash your hands, use hand sanitizer and physically distance from others," she said. "We still need to be vigilant and keep up the precautions while we relax restrictions."
The Cole County Health Department won't change how it monitors COVID-19 after the order expires.
"We'll continue to get the test results from the state and go from there," Campbell said.
Jefferson City Mayor Carrie Tergin authorized a new emergency proclamation Tuesday ordering all residents, businesses and organizations to comply with state-level orders relating to prevention of COVID-19 so the city can enforce the statewide order after the county's expires.
The city's emergency proclamation also notes any violations by businesses or organizations holding a city business or liquor license may be grounds for suspension or revocation of those licenses.
Some local businesses are preparing to reopen or resume some normal operations after Tuesday's announcement.
Downtown Jefferson City restaurant La Chica Loca announced Tuesday it will reopen April 29. After doing curbside and carry-out only for a couple of weeks, the business at 306 E. High St. closed its doors temporarily April 14.
Co-owner Amanda Jensen said she decided to reopen La Chica Loca because Cole County is not extending its order. She said she has read data indicating Missouri may have already reached its peak of coronavirus cases.
La Chica Loca will offer curbside pickup and online ordering only until Gov. Mike Parson's stay-at-home order expires May 3, Jensen said. The business also will not accept cash, and staff will continue to wear masks and gloves.
While the restaurant has seen a decrease in business because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jensen said, she is "thankful" it wasn't worse.
"Since our food travels so well, we didn't see a decrease in sales as much as some of our neighbors and friends around downtown Jeff City," she said.
There was a silver lining in the closing though, Jensen said. About five years ago, Jensen and her husband and fellow co-owner, Greg Atkinson, lost the recipes to their smoothies — and they found them while in self-isolation. In celebration, La Chica Loca will serve various smoothies when it reopens next week.
The duo was also able to work on their food truck, which they hope to have operational in the next month.
This article was updated at 3:55 p.m. April 21, 2020, with additional details.