May 6, 2020

America begins to reopen but businesses and customers in no rush to get back | US news

They were not exactly rushing to embrace their new-found freedom in Liberty, Missouri.

Even as the state endured its largest increase in coronavirus cases on Monday, Missouri’s Republican governor, Mike Parson, decided to press ahead with his plan to allow businesses to reopen and to lift restrictions on social gatherings imposed as the pandemic crept closer six weeks ago.

But for all the fury of gun-toting protests against lockdowns and stay-at-home orders in some parts of America, only a smattering of Liberty’s shops and restaurants opened their doors.

While many people were pleased to see the restrictions eased, some also harbored doubts about whether it might lead to a resurgence of Covid-19, with Missouri recording more than 8,700 confirmed cases and a total of 358 deaths by Monday, and projections that 3,000 people a day could be dying across the US in a month.

Parson has lifted some restrictions put in place to slow the spread and allowed some businesses to reopen.

Parson has lifted some restrictions put in place to slow the spread and allowed some businesses to reopen. Photograph: Jeff Roberson/AP

A short line formed outside Brendle’s barber shop, where the owner had refused offers of large payments to cut hair during the closure.

“You wouldn’t believe what people offered me for haircuts. Fifty dollars from one man. I got a guy, a regular customer, who was super pissed at me because I wouldn’t open up to give him a cut,” said Tara Brendle.

Brendle said she was nervous about reopening, but decided to do so with precautions, including obliging customers to wait outside the door and sanitizing everything from chairs to gowns between them.

“I’m not as worried about myself as I am about other people like my parents and kids,” she said. “But I needed to go back to business. Luckily I don’t have a ton of overheads. I had savings I dipped into. I wouldn’t have survived without it. But I couldn’t go on much longer.”

Lyle Hoover, waiting outside for his first haircut since the lockdown, thought it was about time.

“As this thing barrels on, I can’t help but think we’re being manipulated. Not to take anything from the seriousness of coronavirus but I think it’s being blown way out of proportion. There’s a good percentage of this country who live paycheck to paycheck, and now their livelihood has been taken away,” he said.

Lyle Hoover waiting for haircut at Brendle’s barber shop in Liberty.

Lyle Hoover waiting for haircut at Brendle’s barber shop in Liberty. Photograph: The Guardian

Parson lifted the closures as part of what he calls his “Show Me Strong” recovery plan, which relies heavily on testing for the virus and access to protective equipment, both of which remain limited. Brendle doesn’t have a lot of confidence that Parson or the state government know what they are doing, not least because they have done little to help her over the past six weeks.

“There’s no organization. There’s no real plan. Just open up and we’ll see what happens,” she said. “We all know there’s going to be a resurgence in cases. But if they don’t know what to do, I sure as hell don’t.”

Confidence in the governor was not enhanced when Parson decided to mark the reopening by touring an electrical contractor and a hunting and fishing store without wearing a face mask, in a pointed rejection of federal health recommendations.

“I chose not to,” he said. “I don’t think that it is government’s role to mandate who wears one.”

The sense that Parson’s coronavirus policy is driven less by health priorities than political and business ones was strengthened when he told workers they would have to return to their jobs if their employers demand it or lose benefits.

“When we open the state up, if you’ve got to go back to work, if your boss calls and says you have to go back to work, you have to go back to work,” he said last week.

Pushback has come from the mayors of Missouri’s two biggest cities, St Louis and Kansas City, which have kept restrictions in place, including the closure of restaurants for sit-down dining, gyms and non-essential shops.

When restaurants reopen in the middle of the month, Kansas City’s mayor, Quinton Lucas, plans to limit seating to just 10% capacity or 10 people including employees.

“You can’t have a good economy when you don’t have customers, when you don’t have workers,” he said.

Some restaurants have been allowed to reopen.

Some restaurants have been allowed to reopen. Photograph: The Guardian

Hammerhand Coffee, on a corner of Liberty’s main square, has been open throughout for takeaway drinks. The cafe was free to open its doors to customers on Monday morning, but decided against it.

“We’re adhering to the county guidelines, which is 25% capacity, which allows us six people including staff. Which didn’t make sense,” said Lucas Bell, from behind a plastic screen.

Bell wasn’t at all sure reopening business completely was right in any case.

“I agree with the closure. I respect the Kansas City mayor more than the governor. The mayor’s more cautious. I don’t know if the governor knows what he’s talking about,” he said.

That uncertainty is reflected around the square where most businesses remained firmly closed. The florists, boutiques and jewelers were all still shut. Hueys on the Square restaurant, which gave away free boxed meals to families in need, was open with some tables marked “no seating” to keep patrons six feet apart.

But there was not a customer in sight.

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