I understand COVID-19, face masks, and social distancing. I understand government’s role in administering the health and safety of citizens. I hear the same doctors, scientists, experts, and experienced authorities as St. Louis County Executive Sam Page. Why then do I feel like Tom Hanks in the movie “Big” sitting in the conference room listening to the expert authorities explaining why something will work and all I can say is “I don’t get it?” Why is Sam Page imposing inflexible standard restrictions on all businesses when St. Louis County has the money and the St. Louis County Department of Public Health (DPH) has the ability to allow businesses to safely open under a plan specific to a business’s operational abilities and restrictions? If DPH can approve a plan for some business to operate safely, why can’t DPH approve a plan for other business to operate safely? If a restaurant, hair salon, or other business, including places of worship, show it can operate safely with its air infiltration or circulation system, protection barriers, disinfection processes, distancing requirements, customer flow restrictions, face coverings, and occupancy rules, as approved by DPH, why can’t the business operate according to a specific safety plan instead of having to suffer under inflexible standard restrictions?
In May, St. Louis County became eligible to receive $173,481,105.80 in CARES Act money to help pay for expenses incurred because of COVID-19. Since May, this money could be used to pay for government services in response to COVID-19, and the U.S. Treasury Department has explained that expenses to enforce public health orders and for public safety measures in response or related to COVID-19 are eligible expenditures, which would include COVID-19 expenditures by DPH. Sam Page has known this and the importance of helping business stay open for many months. The St. Louis County Cares website shows $24,150,000.00 is budgeted from the CARES Act for “Economic Recovery” to invest in strategies including lifting economic restrictions, helping businesses re-open, and helping restaurants return to dine-in service — making money available to pay DPH to oversee and monitor strategies dedicated to keeping businesses open and operating safely without the need to have inflexible standard restrictions.
Sam Page knows the devastating effects inflexible standard restrictions limiting or closing businesses has on our economy. On May 17, Sam Page told KMOX that he will be watching closely to make sure businesses reopening doesn’t lead to a new surge in cases. So here we are, $24 million budgeted for “Economic Recovery” to help businesses stay open, businesses being closely watched since May, and procedures in place which allow some businesses and activities to submit a plan to DPH to open and operate safely. With all this, “I don’t get” the Nov. 12 Public Health Order.
The order imposes inflexible standard shutdowns on indoor dining and drinking establishments and limits on non-essential businesses to 25 percent capacity yet allows for businesses such as entertainment and concert venues, professional sporting events, youth sporting activities, and casinos to open and operate safely under a plan approved by DPH. So, Sam Page, please help us understand, we have the money to help businesses stay open safely and to pay DPH to administer oversight and enforcement of a plan allowing certain businesses and activities to operate, but you can’t figure out a procedure that would give all business, especially food and beverage establishments, the ability to submit a plan to DPH specific to the business’s conditions which could allow the business to open and operate safely instead of forcing harsh inflexible standard restrictions?
Sam Page should not be enacting strategies that unnecessarily restrict a business that can operate safely. Enacting draconian rules and not considering a business’s ability to open and operate safely based on a business’s specific operating and safety procedures consistent with CDC, DPH, and other expert guidelines, is an abuse of government power and hurts the people of St. Louis County. We are at a point where you can make decisions on restricting businesses based on a business’s specific capabilities to operate safely. St. Louis County has the means and money to accomplish this. You must revise the order and give every business the opportunity to submit a plan to DPH showing it can open and operate safely.
Jack B. Spooner is a lifelong St. Louis County resident and small business owner.