CLAYTON — St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said Wednesday that some non-essential businesses in the county would probably be able to reopen on May 18, under guidelines that are still being written.
His comments came after he and Mayor Lyda Krewson announced Tuesday that the city and county on May 18 would begin to gradually lift the stay-at-home orders that have been in place for six weeks. He said the reopening would be "slow, measured and responsible and deliberate."
Page said businesses would be asked to have their employees wear face masks, and that his administration was considering a provision that would allow businesses to refuse service to customers who aren't covering their faces. But he said the county would probably leave the enforcement up to the public.
"I will be very surprised if businesses whose employees are not wearing masks will get much traffic," he said. "Businesses, I believe, who do not have employees wearing masks will be policed more frequently by their customers than us."
He said he thinks customers will reward businesses that adhere to guidelines on social distancing and face covering, and that word will get around about businesses that aren't as careful.
Page said businesses also will be expected to limit crowd sizes and maintain social distancing with 6 feet between occupants. The county will have more detailed guidelines for businesses specific to their industry later this week, Page said, and for the most part those will be aligned with the city's guidelines.
Page said that any easing of restrictions will undoubtedly lead to an increase in new infections, but he said the county would "work hard to manage that trend." But if there were to be a spike in new cases, he said, it could lead to restrictions being restored.
Public health experts have advised that because of the virus's 14-day incubation period, states should not move toward relaxing restrictions until they see a sustained reduction in confirmed COVID-19 cases for two weeks.
That hasn't happened yet in St. Louis County, where there was just one fewer case reported on May 4 — 64 — than there was on April 27 — 65. According to the Metropolitan St. Louis Pandemic Task Force, the seven-day moving average for hospitalizations has been flat, although the average for new hospitalizations has been trending down.
The proposal to lift restrictions comes amid pressure from the mayors of some of the county's 88 municipalities. On Tuesday, a group of 23 mayors told the County Council they wanted the county to publish the first phase of its reopening plan to give residents and businesses time to get ready.
Asked whether the data supported a discussion about reopening and whether his decision was swayed by political pressure, Page said in an email: "We won't be making any decisions based on behavior of people who are for or against public health safety orders. We will be following data and continue working with (pandemic task force commander Dr. Alex Garza) and the hospital systems as well as our public health departments."
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