Is Cape Girardeau ready to return to normal? Local business, health, government leaders weigh in
Businesses in Missouri are reopening today with strict social distancing guidelines and requirements, launching phase one of Gov. Mike Parson’s Show Me Strong Recovery Plan.
Phase one of the recovery plan began less than a month after Parson issued a statewide stay-at-home order on April 3 in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. The first phase begins today and extends through May 31.
The plan serves as a strategic “re-opening” of Missouri and its economy as the COVID-19 pandemic runs its course, according to information released by Parson’s office.
During phase one, “Missouri will gradually begin to reopen economic and social activity,” the plan states. “During this time, we should limit our activity and interactions and continue to maintain social distancing and practice good hygiene to protect our neighbors and ourselves.”
Every business in Missouri — even those considered “non-essential” by the federal government — can choose to reopen under Parson’s plan.
The plan also calls for “no limitations on social gatherings, as long as necessary precautions are taken and six feet of distance can be maintained between individuals and/or families,” and states “local health authorities may enforce more restrictive public health requirements for businesses or individuals.”
‘Not over yet’: Professor of nursing warns of rapid return to normal
Associate professor of Nursing Linda Garner said even though the stay-at-home order is lifted, it’s important to continue taking precautions because there are many things about COVID-19 that remain unknown.
While she said there have been advancements made in the research of medications for COVID-19, in fact, Garner said it could take “decades” to understand the virus. “It’s going to take awhile to really understand not just prevention, but the treatment,” Garner said. “We're beginning to see some promising things in terms of medications that will help, especially [for] those that are really ill, but the chance of having a vaccine within the next few months, it's just not going to happen.”
She added the pandemic showed healthcare professions they were not as prepared for a pandemic as they once believed. Part of what makes this so scary, she said, is that healthcare professionals still haven’t fully grasped a “pattern” for COVID-19.
To put this into perspective, Garner gave an example about the mumps outbreak on campus a couple of years back.
“When we had mumps on campus, we know the incubation period, we know how long an average case lasts, so you can tell someone, ‘This is what’s going to happen to you,’” Garner said. “And we have not been able to do that with this, so some people get really sick and die and others are completely asymptomatic.”
Garner said everyone’s risk of contracting the virus is “unique for each person,” so it’s important for people to be aware of their own circumstances and decide how vulnerable they are to certain types of exposure.
“The way I kind of look at it is that you have to stay vigilant about who's around you and the places that you're going,” Garner said. “Even if you think you are invincible, others around you may not be and so just always vigilant about yourself and others and who you could be impacted by and vice versa.”
While Garner said she can appreciate the need to get out after being stuck in quarantine so long, she wants people to be safe about it, and “find a balance somewhere between the social isolation staying at home and getting back to life as it used to be.”
‘A new normal’: Mayor Fox discusses reopening in Cape Girardeau
Cape Girardeau Mayor Bob Fox said he believes Cape Girardeau is ready for phase one of the Show Me Strong Recovery Plan, but getting to the final phase may be a lengthy process.
Fox said all businesses in Cape Girardeau can reopen under “limited capacity” if the business owner chooses to, but they are not required to do so.
“When it comes to a smaller restaurant, and you don’t have a lot of room in there, is it worth their time to open a third or a half of their tables and hire staff when they can’t even open at full capacity?” Fox asked. “We’re finding most restaurants may not open at all, or may not open until June or July.”
Fox said in addition to “limited capacity” operations, social distancing should still be maintained as well as practicing good hygiene.
To ensure businesses are following the guidelines in the recovery plan, Fox said the Cape Girardeau County Public Health Center will be in charge of monitoring businesses and keeping them informed about changes in procedures.
Despite these precautions, Fox said there is a divide between people who want the state to reopen and those who think it should remain closed.
“I hear from people who say, ‘It’s too early to open, we don’t need to be open,’” Fox said. “I also hear from people that are starving to open because they think we need to get back to at least some sense of normalcy.”
Fox said he has noticed many people favor the idea of opening on a limited basis.
“I think more people would rather open on a limited basis,” Fox said. “I don’t think anybody wants to open just to come back to normal right away, you can’t do that.”
When it comes to returning to normal, Fox said he isn’t sure exactly what that means for the Cape Girardeau community, but said it will depend on the numbers of how many people continue to be infected with the virus.
However, he said he’s optimistic the local community will see improvements by the fall.
‘No way of knowing’: John Mehner explains economic impact of COVID-19, state reopening
The local economy “drastically needs help” as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO John Mehner.
Mehner said the state reopening could offer local businesses some relief, but it is possible even with the stay-at-home order being lifted people will be reluctant to go back out in public.
“I think we have a lot of people who are tired of being quarantined and are looking for something that they can do,” Mehner said. “But we also have a lot of people who understand the virus has not gone any place, and for them to do anything outside of their home or outside of the area right now, they’re not going to feel safe.”
Mehner said if business owners want to be successful during this time, they have to show customers the establishment is safe by following CDC guidelines, such as wearing face masks and providing hand sanitizer.
“It’s gonna take awhile and people are gonna have to get creative with how they do business,” Mehner said.
He said a top priority of the Chamber of Commerce has been preparing businesses for what they need to do to make people feel safe.
Ahead of the statewide order being lifted, Mehner said there was “no way of knowing what will happen on Monday because we’ve never been through this before.”
Mehner stressed the importance of shopping locally, especially right now, to help boost the local economy.