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Exurb counties breaking from Missouri urban areas on reopening plans

Virus Outbreak Missouri

Truman Medical Center nurse Kelly Meyer prepares to take a sample for a COVID-19 test during a drive-in testing outreach in the parking lot of a church in Kansas City, Mo. Wednesday, April 22, 2020. The city continues to be under an extended stay-at-home order until May 15 in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Leaders of counties on the edge of Missouri’s two metropolitan areas are showing an increasing urge to end business shutdowns necessitated by the coronavirus, breaking with urban leaders who have extended stay-at-home orders for several weeks.

The majority of confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, have occurred in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas. Democratic leaders of St. Louis city and county, Kansas City and Jackson County have extended stay-at-home orders until at least mid-May in hopes of containing the spread of the disease.

But amid a growing backlash to social distancing restrictions and the economic fallout that has closed businesses and left hundreds of thousands of Missourians out of work, Republican leaders of counties adjacent to the urban core are opting to allow businesses to reopen sooner rather than later.

Clay and Cass counties near Kansas City announced Wednesday that their stay-at-home orders will expire May 3, the same day Republican Gov. Mike Parson’s emergency order expires. The decision in Clay County was surprising because just a week ago, the county had extended its order until May 15 to coincide with extensions for Kansas City and Jackson County.

Over the past week, new information has emerged showing a relatively low number of new cases, while access to testing has improved significantly, Clay County said in a news release.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas was critical of the decision.

“I badly want our region to get back to work — but the trade-off cannot be someone losing their parent, partner, child or friend to COVID-19,” Lucas said on Twitter. “We will continue to listen to our public health officials — not the political winds — as we work to protect our community’s health, which is essential to our City’s long-term economic vitality.”

Parts of Clay and Cass counties are within Kansas City limits. Those areas will still fall under the city’s extended order.

Meanwhile, one St. Louis-area county is easing off restrictions even before the state mandate ends.

Franklin County Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker announced in a video posted to YouTube that golf courses, movie theaters, concert halls, gyms and exercise facilities, bowling alleys and skating rinks all can reopen Saturday, but must adhere to statewide restrictions limiting gatherings to 10 or fewer people.

It’s unclear what Brinker’s order really means. Parson said Wednesday that Franklin County must still abide by the state order.

Brinker conceded in an interview Wednesday with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that for many businesses, reopening under statewide restrictions is “probably not going to make a whole lot of economic sense,” but said the message is that businesses should start planning their re-entry.

Another county near St. Louis, St. Charles County, has adhered to Parson’s order and will continue to do so, spokeswoman Mary Enger said.

The number of people reported as having the coronavirus in Missouri increased by 96 Thursday to 6,306, and deaths rose by 13 to 242, according to Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering, which is monitoring cases worldwide.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

St. Louis County announced Thursday that 102 residents have died of COVID-19, and that a temporary morgue was now in use.

County spokesman Benjamin Granda said the remains of one person were taken Wednesday to the facility known as the Dignified Transfer Center, before being removed to a cremation facility.

Still, the expected need for the temporary morgue is such that the Missouri National Guard is preparing to assist. The National Guard said it would help transport remains from hospitals and help to care for the remains.