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As Missouri continues to reopen, do restaurants need to report positive cases to state health department?

With Missouri solidly a month into its initial stage of reopening, more people have begun frequenting restaurants. But with dining rooms unlocking to the public again — albeit, with social distancing and other safety measures in place — do restaurants need to alert the state if an employee tests positive for COVID-19

The short answer is no: State law does not require a restaurant to report to the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) if an employee ultimately tests positive for coronavirus. 

But the health department does “encourage local public health agencies or the establishment to make any type of related exposure announcements as deemed necessary,” a DHSS spokeswoman told The Missouri Times. 

And under Missouri’s reopening plan, local entities are allowed to implement more stringent restrictions — especially as the number of positive cases and deaths is higher in urban areas. And that means restaurants falling under certain jurisdictions might need to contact local health officials. 

In the city of St. Louis, restaurants and bars are required to provide employees with personal protective equipment as well as screen them upon arriving and departing work, checking for symptoms or elevated temperature. 

“If an employee is diagnosed with COVID-19, work with local health agencies to ensure all employees and customers who can be identified as having had close contact while the employee was infectious are contacted,” the city’s restaurant operating protocol instructed. “Employees identified as having close contact should be immediately sent home or told not to come into work until the investigation has been conducted.” 

Missouri began to partially reopen early May. Since, restaurants have seen business “picking up,” Bob Bonney, CEO of the Missouri Restaurant Association, told The Missouri Times. 

Under the reopening plan, restaurants can offer dine-in services as long as social distancing and other precautionary measures are in place. This includes spacing tables at least 6 feet apart and banning communal seating.

The initial phase of reopening at the state level is in place until June 15. And as Missouri prepares to move into the next phase, the health department is “not actively considering” requiring restaurants to report positive cases to the state, Lisa Cox, the spokeswoman for DHSS said. 

“Those types of ideas are always on the table though if our situation changes,” Cox said. She noted transmission risks to the public in those situations are “usually low.” 

The state does require congregate living facilities, such as a nursing home or prison, to report positive cases. 

“That’s slightly different since those are isolated situations that people can’t easily leave, and this allows us to step in with guidance on testing and boxing in any potential outbreak,” Cox explained. “This restaurant idea would be different as it would be based more on needing to notify the general public with case info.” 

Gov. Mike Parson said Wednesday he does not plan to move up the second phase of reopening. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: For up-to-date information on coronavirus, check with the CDC and DHSS.