KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Bars and restaurants in Kansas City, Missouri, will be allowed to stay open later beginning this week.
Mayor Quinton Lucas on Wednesday announced new COVID-19 guidelines for those establishments, which can now remain open until midnight. The new order goes into effect at 10 p.m. Wednesday.
Lucas said he was "heartened" by a drop in case rates, particularly among those ages 18-29, after the city implemented operating restrictions for bars and restaurants in November. For the past two months, those businesses have been required to close at 10 p.m.
The city will review the amended health order in one month, Lucas said, to determine whether the midnight closing time should be extended or restricted further.
Restaurants and bars will need to continue limiting their occupancy to 50% of the building capacity and require social distancing between groups of people. All customers will continue to be required to wear masks unless eating or drinking.
The new guidelines also apply to weddings and other event spaces.
The city's former 10 p.m. curfew for bars and restaurants did not sit well with some bar owners in KCMO.
"It will put us in survival mode. Ever since the day before Thanksgiving when he decided to shut us down at 10, it's been awful," said Steve Stegall, owner of The Blue Line. "We are not making any money. We are barely surviving. This extra two hours is critical. I mean, it is absolutely critical for bars to survive."
Stegall decided to take legal action by suing the city and Jackson County over the restrictions last month.
"We wanna go after the damages that this has cost all of us," Stegall said.
Even after Wednesday's announcement, the owner of the bar said he still will move forward with his case, though he did say the new guidelines were a step forward in the right direction.
"Going forward, we just gotta survive this pandemic," Stegall said. "It's not easy on any small business owner, but this definitely would help. With this, I see us surviving and moving forward throughout the pandemic and getting through this."
Lucas responded to a question about the litigation on Wednesday, saying that he believes the restrictions are essential to keeping the larger public safe amid the pandemic.
"I don't want to basically see some of the challenges we have seen in this city and this country," Lucas said. "People are dying and people are being harmed, and that's why I fully believe that if they sue us and we have walk across the street to the courthouse, we will prevail in litigation."
In Johnson County, bars and restaurants have been allowed to stay open until midnight since November. The discrepancy in operating hours had frustrated some business owners in KCMO and neighboring counties, who said it created an unfair advantage for businesses located just across the county line, particularly on weekends and during sporting events.
Lucas, who also extended the city's State of Emergency until May 1, said the new guidelines will bring "regional consistency" but emphasized that he was "proud" of the guidelines enacted in KCMO last fall.
"I think we have made the entire region safer," Lucas said at a news conference announcing the new guidance.
Though the revised guidelines in KCMO and surrounding counties bring consistency across the region, they also come despite acknowledgment that COVID-19 cases in the Kansas City metro are not significantly subsiding. In the region, more than 141,000 people have contracted COVID-19 and more than 1,600 people have died over the course of the pandemic.
Dr. Rex Archer, the director of the KCMO Health Department, said that while he supports a regional approach to move closing hours to midnight, indoor dining still presents clear risks for the spread of the virus. He compared dining indoors to jumping out of a second-story window: "(J)ust because it’s legal for you to jump out of that window doesn’t mean it’s a good idea."
"I’m saying that because it’s not a good idea to be in those indoor environments when people stop wearing masks," Archer said at the news conference Wednesday. " ... These are not environments that I advise you to go to. It may not be mandated not to, but I want to be very clear that we’re not at a point as a community that it’s safe to be in those environments."
Also Wednesday, KCMO officials announced they had received the first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines. The 975 initial doses will be used to inoculate health care providers who will be administering the vaccine to the public, home health caretakers and other health care workers outside of a hospital or medical group.
Those who are interested in learning more about vaccination opportunities can complete a survey on the city's website.