County Health ‘highly recommends’ limiting public seating in food establishments; Commissioners in third-class county can’t adopt ordinance requiring such action

By Buck Collier, Special Correspondent
Posted 3/25/20

HERMANN — Operators of restaurants and other food establishments throughout Gasconade County are hunkering down for what could be a prolonged period in the wake of last week’s action by …

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County Health ‘highly recommends’ limiting public seating in food establishments; Commissioners in third-class county can’t adopt ordinance requiring such action

Posted

HERMANN — Operators of restaurants and other food establishments throughout Gasconade County are hunkering down for what could be a prolonged period in the wake of last week’s action by the county Health Department.

Beginning last Friday, businesses offering food or beverages — referred to as places of public accommodation — were highly recommended to be closed to indoor seating service. The recommendation, which was presented to the Gasconade County Commission a day earlier, covers such businesses as restaurants, cafes, coffeehouses and other outlets that offer on-site dining. The recommendation, which was endorsed by the County Commission, also covers bars, taverns, distilleries, wineries, clubs and other places that offer alcoholic beverages for on-site consumption.

Health Department officials will review the affect of the recommendation on April 1.

In a statement, health agency officials said, “We have been speaking daily with neighboring counties, state agencies and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services in making this difficult decision. We feel it is in the best interest of our communities to limit the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus).”

The health agency recommends the affected businesses to offer food and beverage service to no more than 10 members of the public at one time on-site to pick up the food and beverages and that those customers remain at least six feet apart while on the premises. The food and beverage items should be provided to the customers by way of delivery service, window service, walk-up and drive-through services and drive-up service, “so long as every such person involved implements appropriate precautions to decrease the potential transmission of COVID-19, including social distancing techniques,” the agency said.

Several members of the health agency sought an order from the County Commission to give the recommendations more force; however, as Presiding Commissioner Larry Miskel, R-Hermann, explained, the Commission does not have ordinance-making authority. First-class counties, such as Franklin County, do have the authority; but third-class counties such as Gasconade do not.

These businesses in tourism-dependent Hermann had been planning to scale back operations prior to the issuance of the Health Department recommendation, said Hermann Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Melissa Lensing. “Some of the businesses had already put plans in place for delivery or curb-side,” she said. “A majority of them were ahead of the curve before the order came out.”

The Chamber official said businesses should try to withstand this unusual business climate by taking an optimistic approach. “Think about what you can do and not what you can’t,” Lensing said.

The coronavirus pandemic struck at a time when Hermann was seeing a significant uptick in tourism, Lensing said. “We had a good trend going, with year-over-year (increases) and businesses opening,” she said.

The scope of the pandemic overwhelms everyone, she added. “It’s hard to wrap your mind around it,” the Chamber official said.

Getting through the crisis at the local level will require the involvement of everyone, she said. “I just think we need to encourage each other. Hermann’s heritage is one of overcoming things and we’ll overcome this, too,” she said.

The greatest unknown is how long it will take to return to a semblance of normalcy. While the first part of April is a commonly mentioned date — the Health Department will review the situation April 1 and local school officials have set April 3 as the possible end of its class cancellations — the current situation could linger much longer.

“If we ever needed a crystal ball, now is the time,” Lensing said. “We just have to take this thing one day at a time.”

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