Editor’s Note: This story is the first in the Courier-Tribune’s special coverage called The Bounceback: Helping the Northland recover and move forward. Stories under this coverage heading will highlight ways our communities and residents are rebuilding while remaining resilient during the COVID-19 pandemic.
CLAY COUNTY — As the rate of COVID-19 infections has remained low across Clay County, public health officials released a recovery plan Wednesday, April 29, that outlines how county entities can begin to reopen after stay-home orders expire Monday, May 4.
Basis for recovery plan
“Existing shelter-in-place actions enacted … have demonstrated having a measurable impact on reducing the number of cases of COVID-19 in Clay County’s jurisdiction,” states a proclamation on the implementation of recovery efforts from Clay County Public Health Center Director Gary Zaborac. “Continual evaluation of local data and conditions in Clay County’s jurisdiction indicate that the first peak of disease has occurred, and the number of cases remains stable and low.”
Clay County Public Health Communications Specialist Kelsey Neth said the public health center triggered entrance into the recovery phase of the pandemic response due to sustained reduction in cases, area hospitals are not at critical capacity and have the ability to treat COVID-19 patients; testing is more readily available so those showing symptoms can be tested and because public health can maintain contact tracing as well as isolation monitoring.
The public health center began free, drive-thru public testing of those showing symptoms last week. Testing is done in the parking lot on the west side of Pleasant Valley Baptist Church, located at 1600 N. Missouri Highway 291 in Liberty.
“If you have symptoms of COVID-19 and wish to be tested, please fill out the testing questionnaire. If you qualify for testing, health department staff will be in contact with you shortly to schedule an appointment,” states the health center’s website, www.clayhealth.com.
Start of recovery plan
The recovery plan takes a phased-in approach and includes four steps, the first of which begins when stay-home orders are lifted May 4. The first step includes reopening businesses and organizations with occupancy limits while continuing to not allow mass gatherings. Mass gatherings are any gathering of 25 or more in a location where physical interaction is possible.
“How quickly and effectively the community can reopen is directly related to the spread of COVID-19, which depends on the community’s response,” states the plan. “When all rules and guidance in each step are followed, the likelihood for a more rapid reopening occurs. When rules or guidance are not followed, the reopening process is likely to take significantly longer and shelter-in-place orders may become necessary again.”
The following are physical distancing guidelines outlined in the first step of the recovery plan:
• People should remain physically separated by 6 feet at all times.
• There should be frequent disinfection of surfaces and common areas and in between groups’ use of spaces.
• Travel outside of one’s community and region should only occur for essential activities.
• Individuals at high risk should continue to stay home and not interact with others except for vital activities.
Business activities allowed
Under the plan, while essential businesses can continue operation, all nonessential businesses not engaged in retail sales can reopen “provided employees maintain social distancing requirements and wear protective face coverings. Businesses must encourage working from home as much as possible.”
Retail businesses, gyms and restaurants can reopen as long as they implement social distancing requirements and occupancy to the public is limited based on fire code occupancy as follows:
• Locations less than 10,000 square feet must maintain 25% or less of the authorized occupancy.
• Locations 10,000 square feet or larger must maintain 10% or less of the authorized occupancy.
Ahead of the county’s plan released Wednesday, city leaders from across the Northland told the Courier-Tribune about their projected recovery plans, which are in flux. More details on these plans will be published as they become available.
In Kearney, Mayor Randy Pogue said the city will plan in accordance with county public health guidelines. Details of the city’s plan will be rolled out in days to come, but parks department officials said while trails will remain open, it is likely playgrounds will remain closed.
Liberty City Administrator Curt Wenson said the city will follow county public health’s lead and will continue to have city employees working from home.
While exact guidelines from the city on how it will open have yet to be released, Liberty Mayor Lyndell Brenton said the move will be handled with caution.
“COVID-19 doesn’t disappear at midnight May 3,” he said. “There will be directions and people will need to work together to protect themselves, their families, friends and neighbors who we share the city and county with. There will be self-regulation that needs to happen.”
In Smithville, City Administrator Cynthia Wagner said while things will reopen, city staff and businesses will work cautiously. The City Hall lobby, 107 W. Main St., will remain closed to the public. Bills from the city can continue to be paid by phone via credit card or via check dropped in the city dropbox in front of City Hall.
“(On May 4,) people can contact City Hall between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., our regular working hours,” she said. “We will have a Ring doorbell system installed out front so if people do come to City Hall, they will talk to a receptionist who will find out what their need is. Then, if they must interact with someone, we will practice social distancing. We will provide face masks and we will try to minimize the interaction.”
In addition, while city park trails will remain open, playgrounds, restrooms and sports fields will remain closed.
“Rental of all our shelters, facilities and leagues are canceled at this point,” Wagner said. Smith’s Fork Park’s campground will also remain closed to the general public. Mirroring what the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Clay County Parks decided, Smith’s Fork campground is slated to open no sooner than June 1, Wagner said.
Subsequent steps in the recovery plan and more industry specifics like requirements for day cares, hair salons, churches and public pools can be viewed in the complete recovery plan and related infographic attached to the online version of this story, available at mycouriertribune.com. This story and all coronavirus-related coverage is also on the Courier-Tribune NOW app, available for download for Android and Apple devices.