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story.lead_photo.caption Dan Mehan, president and CEO of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, speaks during a COVID-19 briefing Tuesday, April 28, 2020, as Missouri Gov. Mike Parson looks on. Photo by Courtesy of Missouri Governor's Office
For more news about the COVID-19 coronavirus, access the News Tribune Health section.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson was confident Tuesday that the state is prepared for the planned reopening of businesses next week, and business associations are working to help prepare employers.

Parson's plan is to reopen businesses May 4 under guidance released Monday, with social distancing and other measures to remain in place through at least May 31.

The guidance and the new public health order that will take effect May 4 once the statewide stay-at-home order expires May 3 are available online at showmestrong.mo.gov.

The plan for phased reopening is based on the state being able to manage the COVID-19 pandemic, including having enough testing capacity, personal protective equipment and hospital capacity, as well the ability to predict and track outbreaks of the disease.

Parson said Tuesday that one of the most important pieces is whether hospitals are overwhelmed by the pandemic — and he said they currently are not.

He said hospitalizations have decreased in the state's various regions by between about 40 percent to more than 65 percent — with the exception of St. Louis, where there has been an 8 percent increase.

Parson said hospitalizations in the state's central region have declined 38 percent.

As of Tuesday afternoon, there had been 7,303 reported cases of COVID-19 in Missouri, with 314 deaths, since the first reported case in the state was announced in early March.

Most of those people have already recovered, with Missouri having reached its peak of hospitalizations April 7, Parson said.

Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, said the increase in hospitalizations in St. Louis is due to a higher prevalence of the disease there.

As the state prepares to reopen, business associations have been sharing just how badly the economic hit has been. Association leaders spoke Tuesday in support of Parson's plan, while acknowledging the difficulties for businesses will continue.

Based on a survey of Missouri businesses in recent weeks, it's expected businesses will lose a quarter of their revenue this year, said Dan Mehan, president and CEO of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Mehan said 15 percent of businesses, primarily small ones, will close permanently.

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce is hosting a free webinar series looking at ways for businesses to protect their workers and workplace. The next webinar in the three-part series is scheduled for 2 p.m. Wednesday; more information and registration is available at mochamber.com/return-to-work-webinar/.

The Missouri Restaurant Association announced Monday that 93 percent of Missouri restaurant operators have laid off or furloughed workers since March, with 8 percent of operators expecting to lay off or furlough more employees in the next 30 days.

"The National Restaurant Association estimates that more than 171,000, or 76 percent, of Missouri's restaurant workers have been laid off or furloughed since the start of the COVID-19 public health crisis," according to a news release from the association.

The industry in the state is expected to lose more than $775 million sales.

The National Restaurant Association advocated for policy changes including increased emergency federal funding and creation of a tax credit program to support health and safety changes at restaurants.

Mehan said manufacturers and other employers in Missouri who have retooled to try to supply personal protective equipment should be given protection from lawsuits.

"These people took extraordinary actions to help out in a statewide crisis. We believe that both the manufacturers and those that are still standing on the front lines deserve all the protections that we can give them, so they don't need to be concerned about liability from opportunistic people that might be trying to find a chink in their armor, to sue them for doing the right," Mehan said.

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce has long been an advocate for tort reform that would favor businesses.

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