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Missouri governments crack down on restaurant coronavirus rule breakers

A jogger runs before a lighted sign that says "6 feet apart folks."
A jogger in St. Louis in April.
(Jeff Roberson / Associated Press)

Missouri’s two largest metropolitan areas are cracking down on restaurants that violate rules designed to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Kansas City’s liquor control authorities found two dozen bars and restaurants in violation of the city’s new COVID-19 restrictions after a weekend sweep of 185 establishments. The city’s Department of Regulated Industries, which governs liquor licenses, used to rely primarily on complaints to enforce restrictions.

But as the latest set of rules issued by Mayor Quinton Lucas took effect Friday — limiting bars and restaurants to 50% capacity and a closing time of 10 p.m. — the city became more proactive. Staffers will be out every weekend checking on businesses, said Jim Ready, manager of Regulated Industries, the Kansas City Star reported.

“We’re doing it — not to pick on the business. It’s because the COVID-19 numbers in Kansas City are really scary,” he said. “The hospitals are getting stretched to the max.”

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Meanwhile, the St. Louis County Department of Public Health sent certified letters to three dozen bars and businesses ordering them to cease indoor service or face lawsuits or criminal charges. Eleven of those establishments had already received a second notice from the county, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

County Executive Sam Page said the measures were necessary to stop a late-fall surge in coronavirus cases in the region that have placed hospitals and medical workers under immense stress.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican who has steadfastly refused to require residents to wear masks, tested positive for the coronavirus

Many of the restaurants were among the same establishments that are suing the county seeking to block the Page administration’s suspension of indoor dining.

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Last week, Associate Circuit Judge John R. Lasater denied the restaurants’ request to cancel the ban on indoor dining, writing that he believed “public interest is best served right now by denying this restraining order.” But he has yet to rule on whether the power to impose restrictions legally rests with the St. Louis County Council, as the suit contends.

Timothy Belz, a lawyer for the restaurants in the lawsuit, said the county sent some of his clients letters even though they had not opened their dining rooms.

“And they were threatened with this criminal prosecution, which is really outrageous because there is no way you can prosecute someone criminally under this order,” he said. “It’s beyond the pale to be threatening criminal prosecution when you can’t make good on it.”

The death of a suburban St. Louis polling place worker raises COVID-19 concerns. The cause of death has not yet been determined.

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The state on Wednesday reported 4,131 new confirmed cases, bringing its total since the pandemic started to 282,792.

The Boone County Commission voted 2 to 1 on Tuesday to require masks in public, the Columbia Missourian reported. An ordinance had been in place for months in the county seat of Columbia.

“We realized we needed to do something to keep people safe,” Commissioner Janet Thompson said, explaining that the commission had the support of leadership from various communities within the county.


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