- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 23, 2021

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) - With COVID-19 cases on the decline and vaccinations on the rise, two mid-sized Missouri cities are easing restrictions.

St. Joseph Mayor Bill McMurray on Monday ended the requirement to wear a mask, effective Wednesday, the St. Joseph News-Press reported. Meanwhile, in mid-Missouri, the health department for Columbia and Boone County is reducing restrictions on bars, restaurants and other businesses.

The actions in both cities come as newly confirmed cases of the coronavirus have dropped sharply since mid-winter, along with hospitalizations, and as more people get vaccinated. The state health department on Tuesday reported 355 newly confirmed cases, bringing the pandemic-long total to 486,525. The seven-day average of 293 cases per day is the lowest since June, according to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard.

McMurray initially opposed ending St. Joseph’s mandate but relented after the City Council voted 5-4 in support of doing away with it. The decision was ultimately McMurray’s because he had been given authority over the mandate earlier in the pandemic.

Opponents of ending the mandate cited concerns about Buchanan County’s vaccination rate of 13%, one of the lowest in Missouri.



“I hope everybody will exercise good judgment and wear their masks in situations that we are very close to people,” McMurray said. “We’re not out of the woods yet.”

In Columbia, health director Stephanie Browning announced a new order that ends limits on the size of gatherings at bars, restaurants, entertainment venues and other businesses, the Columbia Daily Tribune reported. The order does require continued social distancing between groups or tables at restaurants and bars.

The order also eliminates limits on the number of spectators for sports and activities. The previous order allowed for a maximum of 50% or 100 spectators for indoor events, and up to 200 spectators at outdoor events.

As of Monday, nearly 28% of Boone County residents have received at least one shot of vaccine, according to state data. The statewide average is 22.1%.

Republican Gov. Mike Parson on Tuesday announced formation of a special task force that will make recommendations on how to support small businesses in their recovery from the pandemic. The task force also will consider “ways to better engage minority-owned businesses through existing economic development tools,” a news release said.

A report from the task force is due by Dec. 31, when it will be dissolved.

The St. Louis Blues announced that for the first time this season, the NHL team will sell up to 4,100 tickets for each remaining regular season home game. Tickets go on sale at noon Wednesday.

The state health department‘s weekly examination of death certificates found 53 deaths due to COVID-19 that were previously unreported. Along with two newly confirmed deaths, the virus has now claimed 8,429 Missourians.

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