By Gary J. Groman
The Branson Board of Aldermen took action gutting its existing city ordinances relating to the COVID-19 Virus and clearing the way for Branson to begin opening. Taking their place will be the Order of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) dated April 27. It implements Phase 1 of Missouri’s “Show Me Strong Recovery” plan.
The action came as the Board was considering Bill 5808 during a special meeting on May 4. The Bills requirements, as was the case with some of the city’s previously existing COVID-19 regulations, contained stricter standards than those in the DHSS Order. Requirements such as the mandatory requirement for wearing face masks or coverings in all enclosed spaces, mandatory signage and mandatory disinfecting. The DHSS order has no similar provisions.
The DHSS order’s primary across the board safety requirement, applying to individuals and businesses, relates to social distancing. It says, “Every person and business in the State of Missouri shall abide by social distancing requirements, including maintaining six feet (6’) of space between individuals. This provision shall not apply to family members or individuals performing job duties that require contact with other people closer than six feet (6’). Individuals performing job duties that require contact with other people closer than six feet (6’) should take enhanced precautionary measures to mitigate the risks of contracting or spreading COVID-19. This provision shall apply in all situations, including, but not limited to when customers are standing in line or individuals are using shared indoor or outdoor spaces.”
Under the Order, restaurants are permitted to offer dining-in services providing they meet certain conditions. These include limitations on social distancing and other precautionary measures such as a requirement of at least six feet (6’) spacing between tables, lack of “communal seating areas” to parties that are not connected, and having no more than ten (10) people at a single table. Although dining-in-service is permitted, the Order recommends the continued use of drive-thru, pickup, or delivery options.
Chris Lebec, the city’s attorney, pointed out that the city of Branson must follow the DHSS order, but can be more restrictive. He suggested that the Board had three basic choices. These included adopting Bill 5808 as it was, adopting the state requirements and guidelines as contained with the DHSS Order, or doing nothing. If they chose the third choice, it would leave the “current” city COVID ordinances and guidelines in place. These include things such as the “essential” and “nonessential” business provisions and public gathering limitations for planned or spontaneous events.
The Board took comments from members of the public, including Jeff Seifried, president/chief executive officer, Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and CVB. He expressed his thanks to the business community, saying, “They know their customer best.” He also pointed out how most took immediate action at the outset, before government mandates, to protect their employees and guests.
Seifried went on to say that said he was in favor of the second option, following the state requirements and guidelines as contained with the DHSS Order.
“This will give our businesses the ability to open tomorrow with the understanding that they will comply with the governor’s guidelines,” he said. “Our businesses provided for the safety of their guests and employees as we were lead into this situation. They will do the same as they lead us out of it.”
After the Public Comments, the Board had its discussion. Through a series of procedural steps, they made modifications to Bill 5808. The result of those modifications and the Board’s unanimous vote throughout, was that effective immediately, the DHSS Order sets forth the requirements that the residents and businesses of Branson are required to follow. The DHSS Order and FAQ are online at https://governor.mo.gov/show-me-strong-recovery-plan-guidance-and-frequently-asked-questions.
(Gary Groman is also a columnist, a.k.a. The Ole Seagull)