KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Quinton Lucas on Friday announced the city will be loosening some of its COVID-19 restrictions as cases in the region continue to decline.
Beginning at 10 p.m. Friday, restaurants and bars can return to normal operating hours and will no longer be required to close at midnight, Lucas said at a news conference at City Hall.
Those businesses must continue to require masks and social distancing between groups.
Limits on gatherings also will be lifted beginning Friday, Lucas said, if those in attendance wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines.
Event organizers will no longer be required to submit mitigation plans to the Kansas City, Missouri, Health Department. Businesses and events must continue to report any known COVID-19 cases among staff or patrons to the health department.
A mandate requiring masks to be worn in all indoor spaces and outdoor spaces where social distancing cannot be maintained will remain in effect, Lucas said.
Lucas said the lowering of the restrictions comes amid a downward trend in COVID-19 cases in the Kansas City region. The mayor said the numbers have declined significantly over the last 10 weeks.
"This is great for restaurants. Everybody's pretty pleased today," Bill Teel, executive director of the Greater Kansas City Restaurant Association, said.
Teel said the announcement feels like a light at the end of the tunnel when many restaurant and bar owners wondered if the restrictions and the pandemic would ever end. Many establishments have gone under over the last year.
"The occupancy limits and hour limits just made it much more difficult for our members to make money. And even though we're not all the way there, this is a great step in the right direction," Teel said.
Restaurants and bars will likely still have to reduce capacity in order to properly space guests out. Teel said his members are looking for creative ways to space their guests out in the coming warmer months.
The hope is that other jurisdictions, like Johnson and Wyandotte counties on the Kansas side, will soon follow behind KCMO.
Independence announced its new guidelines following KCMO's announcement.
Bars and restaurants can go back to normal operating hours, however indoor and outdoor dining is limited to 50% capacity but there is no limit on party sizes.
Venues don't have to submit a form to the health department if they limit capacity to 50%.
Restaurant workers fall into Phase 2 in Missouri, which is at the bottom of the list and has not been activated yet due to lack of vaccine supply.
"Vaccines will definitely help," Teel said. "It'd be great once everyone is vaccinated but certainly for workers like those in restaurants exposed to more people who are not family and people they don't know."
The city issued more restrictive guidelines in late November as cases surged ahead of the holiday season. Lucas said those restrictions helped the city to avoid large spikes in cases after the holidays.
"We’ve gotten through Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, Chiefs Super Bowl run, and we’re proud of the fact that our stricter regulations made sure that our region stayed safer," Lucas said. "We said then that these restrictions were meant to get us through a very tough moment, and they did."
The new guidance applies only within the city of Kansas City, Missouri. On Friday afternoon, Jackson County Executive Frank White Jr. said that changes to his county's health order, if any, would not come until "late next week."
Watch the mayor's full news conference below: