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Virus rules prompt restaurant closures in Missouri cities

Health officials in Kansas City and St. Louis County who shut down some bars and restaurants in recent days for violating coronavirus restrictions are facing legal action and criticism from business owners and some public officials.

A Kansas City bar owner is asking a Jackson County court to issue a temporary restraining order to overturn a 10 p.m. curfew on bars and restaurants, which the city and Jackson County imposed two weeks ago as part of a series of restrictions to slow the spread of the virus. The bar is asking to be allowed to stay open until 3 a.m.

St. Louis County health inspectors on Tuesday shut down four businesses that they said violated a ban on indoor service at restaurants and bars. Kansas City health inspectors closed five businesses over Thanksgiving weekend — four for violating a 10 p.m. curfew and one for hosting a large gathering.

The pushback over dining restrictions comes during a surge in COVID-19 cases in the state and concerns about hospitals having enough beds to treat patients.

As of Wednesday, Missouri recorded a daily average of 2,827 new cases of COVID-19 over the past seven days, raising its total since the pandemic started to 305,370 confirmed cases. As of Sunday — the latest data available — the state reported that 2,651 people were hospitalized in Missouri with COVID-19 and that only 27% of the state’s inpatient hospital beds were unoccupied.

Gov. Mike Parson was scheduled to announce later Wednesday plans for new assistance for hospital staff and an expansion of the state’s overall hospital capacity.

The court petition opposed to the curfew was filed Tuesday by the Blue Line hockey bar. It contends that the business restrictions are unlawful because they were issued through emergency authority by Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas and County Executive Frank White rather than through the City Council and Jackson County Legislature, The Kansas City Star reported.

Jackson County does not have jurisdiction over Blue Line because the bar is within Kansas City.

Lucas noted in a statement that 4,000 Missourians have died from COVID-19, including more than 1,000 in the Kansas City area.

“We stand by our responsible steps to keep people safe,” Lucas said. “Missouri courts have held consistently that our communities have the right to protect public health. We will continue to do so.”

The four businesses that were closed Tuesday in St. Louis County were among dozens of restaurants and bars that received cease-and-desist letters from the county in recent days. The four continued to serve customers indoors after receiving three written warnings, health officials said.

The orders, which have been in place in the county since Nov. 17, restrict bars and restaurants to takeout and delivery or serving diners outdoors.

Some public officials have challenged St. Louis County Executive Sam Page’s authority to impose the orders. On Tuesday, the County Council approved a resolution to undo most of the health order and encourage Page to seek the council’s approval for future orders.

However, the county counselor’s office told the council it didn’t have the power to overturn a health order. and Page said later that the resolution was symbolic, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

About 150 people, including several Republican state and local officials, rallied outside one of the businesses that was shut down later Tuesday. They said they support legislation to curtail local governments’ authority to enact COVID-19 restrictions.

Republican Sen. Andrew Koenig, whose district includes much of central and western St. Louis County, said he would propose a bill to put a two-week limit on local government-mandated business closures.

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