INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — The city of Independence loosened its COVID-19 restrictions on Friday, allowing restaurants, bars and gyms to operate at full capacity limits. It's the first time in more than a year these businesses can welcome all customers.
Masks are still required unless eating or drinking along, but social distancing is no longer enforced, except for "large-capacity entertainment and recreational venues," according to the city.
"We’re starting to get back to something that feels like normal," Karen Bauer, co-owner of A Little BBQ Joint in Independence, said. "It’s a new normal, but at least it feels like it’s normal."
Bauer said the restaurant has been in business for eight years, coming off its "best year ever" in 2019.
"And then when COVID hit, the bottom fell out," Bauer said.
But now, they can seat customers at every table.
Customers 41 Action News spoke with liked the updated restrictions.
"We feel comfortable eating out in a restaurant now that both my husband and I are vaccinated," Independence resident Amanda Sisson said.
Independence resident Beau Zoellner had similar thoughts.
"Let’s just go back to our normal routine and have fun," Zoellner said.
Bars in the city also can go back to filling every seat.
"Not having to count how many heads and use a clicker and count how many people are coming and going, it’s a relief that we can get back to 160," Lori Burroughs, owner of Score Sports Bar and Grill, said.
Independence's two-week average for positive COVID-19 cases is below 5%, prompting the loosening of restrictions.
While full capacity is now allowed, not all restaurants are ready to go that route because they're seeing a growing problem with hiring additional staff.
"It’s been over a year since they were laid off. They found other jobs," Bauer said. "I don’t know that we will put all those tables back in because I don’t have the staff to cover those tables."
While the pandemic took a bite out of business for more than a year, many believe this is the start of the rebound.
"Lifting the order now is going to hopefully revitalize businesses," Zoellner said.
The full order can be viewed on the city of Independence website.
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