O'FALLON, (AP) — After more than a year of severe restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus in Missouri’s two urban areas, Kansas City, St. Louis and St. Louis County on Friday took major steps to allow businesses, schools and other places to return to some semblance of normal.
Kansas City completely rescinded its emergency order, effective at noon on Friday. Mayor Quinton Lucas said at a news conference that the decision was made “somewhat reluctantly” after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday allowed fully vaccinated Americans to stop wearing masks indoors in most settings.
Lucas said the CDC decision could create confusion in trying to enforce restrictions, especially since there is no passport system in place to determine which business patrons are vaccinated and which are not. As a result, the city decided to end all restrictions.
Jackson County Executive Frank White Jr. announced the county also was ending its indoor mask mandate in accordance with CDC guidance. And St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones and St. Louis County Executive Sam Page appeared together at a joint news conference to announce that they, too, were rescinding indoor mask requirements following the CDC announcement.
“This is an historic moment in the pandemic that has brought relief and hope to everyone in our community,” Page said.
Lucas, Jones and Page all noted that businesses, schools and other places can still impose their own rules.
“We’re just getting out of the enforcement business,” Lucas said.
Leaders from all three jurisdictions urged residents to get vaccinated.
“We have arrived at a point in the pandemic where we have to lean more heavily on personal accountability to prevent the spread of the virus,” St. Louis Health Director Dr. Fredrick Echols said.
While Missouri Gov. Mike Parson allowed the state to largely reopen in May 2020, just a couple of months into the pandemic, the two urban areas and many other counties established their own, stricter guidelines.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt sued St. Louis County on Tuesday, saying its continued regulations infringed on the freedom of residents. It wasn’t immediately clear if Schmitt would rescind the lawsuit. His spokesman didn't immediately respond to an email.
Parson and Schmitt are Republicans. Lucas, White, Jones and Page are all Democrats.
The new CDC guidance announced Thursday still calls for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings such as buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters, but it will help clear the way for reopening workplaces, schools and other venues — even removing the need for social distancing for those who are fully vaccinated.
Kansas City reduced restrictions last month, but still required masks in most indoor situations with crowds. Earlier this month, St. Louis city and county both ended limits on the number of people allowed in restaurants and ended an outdoor masking requirement.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Service’s COVID-19 dashboard on Friday showed that at least 507,058 Missourians have contracted the virus since the onset of the pandemic, and 8,855 have died. The website indicated that 49.7% of Missourians have received at least one shot, and 39.1% are fully vaccinated.