In The Midwest, Reopening Looks Different State By State, Even City By City

May 15, 2020
Originally published on May 15, 2020 7:19 pm

One month ago, the White House announced principles for reopening the country. Soon after, governors who felt they weren't getting enough federal guidance banded together to coordinate regional reopening plans.

Michigan's Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, for example, told NPR last month that she'd been in regular contact with the governors of Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio.

"We know that COVID-19 doesn't respect party lines and it doesn't respect state lines, and that's why we've got to share our best information and move strategically together whenever possible," she said on All Things Considered.

Now, many of those national and regional plans seem to have evaporated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out guidance Thursday, but those are just recommendations. As a result, many businesses and customers are navigating a convoluted jumble of rules that change as you cross city, county and state lines.

The patchwork is most pronounced in the center of the country.

'People Need To Have The Courage To Go Out'

Ed Brownell owns about a dozen Spin pizzerias around Kansas City. Within the same metropolitan area, some are in the state of Kansas, others in Missouri.

"The rules up to this point have changed, sometimes day to day, but certainly week to week," says Brownell. "They either extend the close orders or they change what they're requiring us to do to reopen, so that's been very difficult to navigate."

Ed Brownell's dozen or so pizzerias in the Kansas City area straddle Kansas and Missouri.
Ed Brownell

Brownell says Kansas City, Mo., originally planned to allow eateries to open at 50% capacity. Now, the governor has allowed much of Missouri to reopen, but the Kansas City mayor has enacted what he calls a "10-10-10 rule." That means Brownell can allow either 10 people into a location at a time, or 10% of the restaurant's total capacity. If customers are in the building for more than 10 minutes, he is required to log their name and contact information for contact tracing.

"That's probably the most onerous," Brownell says. "Some (municipalities) are requiring 25% capacity, some of them are 50% capacity, and then, gloves and masks and then marks on your floor to make sure the guests don't come within 6 feet of each other."

Two of Brownell's restaurants just opened again on Monday, but not many people showed up for lunch. He has 500 employees. If things don't pick up soon, he's afraid for them and the future of his business.

"People need to have the courage to go out and participate and take the proper precautions," Brownell says. "But I think keeping our head in the sand is not going to do us much good long term. There won't be much to come out to if we keep this going long."

Is 'Turning A Quick Buck' Worth The Risk?

Lora Moore has a different perspective. In Indiana, she and her husband own MDG salon studio and the Black Orchid barber lounge. The two locations are a short drive from each other.

Lora Moore and her husband own MDG salon studio and the Black Orchid barber lounge. One in Indianapolis, the other just over the border in Carmel. Moore has decided not to reopen either location.
Chasey Bardach Photography

But there's a catch: One's in the city of Indianapolis, the other just over the border in Carmel.

Carmel has a Republican mayor, and salons and barbershops there are open — as in much of Indiana. Indianapolis has a Democratic mayor, and the outbreak is worse there, so he's keeping salons and barbershops closed. Moore has decided not to reopen either location.

"Is opening this soon just to turn a quick buck or two, is it really worth it? And the answer at the end of the day was no, it's not," Moore says. "So we pushed our date back to June 1 and there are many salons that followed suit. We're really proud of that movement."

Moore says the lack of clear guidance has put business owners in a tough spot. On Monday, many barber shops in Carmel were open and full all day.

"From the beginning, we were like, someone give us some direction here," she says. "And it's been pretty cloudy, but we're doing our best to navigate that."

Crossing State Lines For Services

To many business owners and customers, this patchwork feels arbitrary and unscientific.

Becky Olsen of Plymouth, Mich., decided she's going to talk her 2-year-old golden retriever Finn across the border for a haircut.

Becky Olsen of Plymouth, Mich. is taking her dog Finn, a 2-year-old golden retriever, to Ohio for a haircut.
Becky Olsen

So Olsen is going to drive 45 minutes from Michigan — where groomers are closed — to one in Toledo, Ohio, which is open.

"The grooming salon we're going to ... told us they've had a ton of people from Michigan call them," she says. "They're bringing their animals down there to be groomed because they can't get them done here in Michigan."

Olsen says she thinks it's safe to do what she's doing, noting that people are going to places like the grocery store and hardware stores.

"Bringing my dog to the groomers ... if there is a drop-off, someone is picking up the dog from my car, very limited contact, they're going to do the service and bring the dog back to my car, I feel that is very safe and secure and I don't feel bad at all going to Ohio," she says. "I just feel bad that my groomer's going to lose money from me going to another place."

'When Were We Ever Considered?'

COVID-19 has disproportionately affected people of color. And Orlando Watson believes the policymakers rushing to reopen the economy are not listening to African Americans like him.

Watson owns a St. Louis restaurant called Prime 55. He has cancer, which has compromised his immune system, so he's especially careful.

Most of Missouri is open. In St. Louis, restaurants remain closed.

Watson doesn't know what he's going to do when the time comes to reopen, which could be as soon as next week.

"I've been real cautious and reluctant to get out," he says as he spray-painted patio furniture he hopes to use when his restaurant reopens. "This is probably my third time getting out during this whole time, minus going to the doctor."

Watson says he's avoided people and characterizes this as a time of "extreme anxiety" for him.

Orlando Watson owns a St. Louis restaurant called Prime 55. He has cancer, which has compromised his immune system, so he's especially careful.
Orlando Watson

He says policymakers at the state level who have decided to reopen Missouri aren't acting with the African American community in mind.

"When were we ever considered when policies were made?" Watson says. "I think that at the end of the day, money is going to outweigh safety. There's going to be casualties behind this country not having a better plan in place and really attacking this from day one."

Missouri's Republican governor, Mike Parson told NPR last month this "phased approach" to reopening makes sense when you look at where people are getting sick and dying.

"What we did here in the St. Louis region, we knew that we needed to put resources up there — mobile testing sites — but that's not happening in rural areas of the state," he said on All Things Considered. "And those cases are not there, and they haven't been there."

Frustration At Lack Of National Policy

But many policymakers feel that a public health challenge of this magnitude should have a cohesive national strategy.

Greg Fischer is a Democrat, and mayor of Louisville, Ky., where many businesses are still closed. Across the Ohio River, much of Indiana is open for business — even though, Fischer says, the case rates and death rates are about four times that of Kentucky while Indiana's population is just 50% more.

"There's no question [reopening] is not nearly as aligned as what it should be," he says.

Fischer says that's a problem happening all over the country.

"I don't think it's a bi-state issue, it's more of a national issue," Fischer says. "Ideally, we would have a national policy here so that we're all singing in concert. ... We realize that's not the case. Cities and states are on their own, so we're building that capacity from the ground up. I think we're doing a good job from what we have to work with, but it's too bad we couldn't have a more aligned national strategy around this. ... That's my frustration."

There are experiments happening all over the country right now. The stakes are high. There is no precedent. And it will be weeks, or months, until the results are known.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

One month ago the White House announced principles for reopening the country. Soon after, governors who felt they weren't getting enough federal guidance banded together to coordinate regional opening plans. Now the reality is much less coordinated, as our co-host Ari Shapiro found.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Last month Michigan's Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer told me she'd been in regular contact with governors of Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GRETCHEN WHITMER: We know that COVID-19 doesn't respect party line, and it doesn't respect state line. And that's why we've all got to share our best information and move strategically together wherever possible.

SHAPIRO: Moving strategically together does not reflect what we're seeing today. Businesses and customers are navigating a checkerboard of rules that change as you cross city, county and state lines. The CDC put out national guidance yesterday, but those are just recommendations. This patchwork is most pronounced in the center of the country. Take Ed Brownell.

ED BROWNELL: I'm the CEO of SPIN! Concepts Inc. And we operate 15 SPIN! pizza restaurants.

SHAPIRO: Within the Kansas City metropolitan area, some of Ed Brownell's pizzerias are in the state of Kansas, others in Missouri.

BROWNELL: The rules up to this point have changed sometimes day-to-day but certainly week-to-week, so that's been very difficult to navigate.

SHAPIRO: Can you give us just one example of that specifically?

BROWNELL: Kansas City, Mo., stores originally were going to open - I don't remember the date - a couple of weeks ago. And they were going to open at 50% capacity. And then the mayor came out and decided he was going to put his own rule in effect, what he's calling the 10/10/10 Rule. Basically, we can only allow 10 people or 10% of our total capacity in the restaurant. And if they're there longer than 10 minutes, we have to log their name and contact information.

SHAPIRO: For contact tracing, in case somebody tests positive.

BROWNELL: Right. And, you know, that's probably the most onerous. From there, it goes down. I mean, some of them are requiring 25% capacity. Some of them are 50% capacity, gloves and masks, marks on your floor to make sure that guests don't come within 6 feet of each other.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: It's ready.

SHAPIRO: We talked with him earlier this week, two of his restaurants hadn't just opened that day, but not many people were showing up for lunch.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: We got a 14-inch veggie and a 14-inch (unintelligible).

SHAPIRO: He has 500 employees, and if things don't pick up soon, he's afraid for them and the future of his business.

BROWNELL: People need to have the courage to go out and participate and, you know, take the proper precautions. But I think, you know, keeping our head in the sand is not going to do us much good long term. There won't be much to come out to if we keep this going long.

SHAPIRO: Lora Moore has a different perspective. In Indiana, she and her husband own MDG Salon Studio and the Black Orchid Barber lounge. The two locations are a short drive from each other.

LORA MOORE: With traffic, 27 minutes, but the two are actually about 13 miles apart.

SHAPIRO: Catch is one's in the city of Indianapolis, the other just over the border in Carmel. Carmel has a Republican mayor, and salons and barbershops there are open, as in much of Indiana. Indianapolis has a Democratic mayor, and the outbreak is worse there, so he's keeping salons and barber shops closed. Moore has decided not to reopen either location.

MOORE: Is opening this soon just to turn a quick buck or two, is it really worth it? And the answer at the end of the day was, no, it's not. So we pushed our date back to June 1, and there are many salons that followed suit. And we're really proud of that movement.

SHAPIRO: Is your hope that, by June 1, you'll have more masks, more cleaning supplies, it'll be a safer environment?

MOORE: Absolutely. Getting supplies that are already on backorder or are already being held for first responders or, honestly, essential industries, it makes it really difficult to protect our team. And that's just not something that we're willing to compromise.

SHAPIRO: Was there any point when this community of barber and salon owners were talking about when as a group you want to reopen, that you all said to yourselves, we're not epidemiologists, we're not public health experts, this is crazy that we're the ones trying to figure this out for ourselves?

MOORE: I mean, really, from the beginning, we were like, someone give us some direction here. And it's been pretty cloudy, but we're doing our best to navigate that.

SHAPIRO: What would you say to barbershops in Hamilton County that reopened on Monday and were full all day?

MOORE: May the odds be ever in your favor.

SHAPIRO: To many business owners and customers, this patchwork feels arbitrary and unscientific.

BECKY OLSEN: My name's Becky Olsen, and I live in Plymouth, Mich. And I have a 2-year-old - guess I'm the parent of a 2-year-old golden retriever named Finn.

SHAPIRO: Finn needs a haircut.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)

SHAPIRO: So Becky Olsen is going to drive 45 minutes from Plymouth, Mich., where groomers are closed, to an open groomer in Toledo, Ohio.

OLSEN: The grooming salon we're going to, they've actually told us they've had a ton of people from Michigan call them. They're bringing their animals down there to be groomed because they can't get them done here in Michigan.

SHAPIRO: Do you think people are going to judge you for going to Ohio to have this service that officials in Michigan have decided is not safe to do right now?

OLSEN: But I don't think it's not safe. If people are standing in line at the grocery store, people are going to Target, people are going to Ace Hardware, I'm bringing my dog to the groomers. To me, if it is a drop off - someone is picking up the dog from my car, very limited contact, They're going to do the service and bring the dog back to my car, I feel that that is very safe and secure. And I don't feel bad at all. (Unintelligible) just feel bad that my groomer is going to lose money from me going to another place.

SHAPIRO: COVID-19 has disproportionately affected people of color, and Orlando Watson believes the policymakers rushing to reopen the economy are not listening to African Americans like him. Watson owns a St. Louis restaurant called Prime 55. He has cancer, which has compromised his immune system, so he's especially careful.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPRAY PAINT CAN RATTLING)

SHAPIRO: As I talk to him, he was spray painting patio furniture that he hopes to use when the restaurant reopens. Most of Missouri is open. St. Louis restaurants are still closed for now. Watson doesn't know what he's going to do when the time comes.

ORLANDO WATSON: I've been real cautious and reluctant to get out. This is probably my third time getting out during this whole time, minus going to the doctor. I don't get out much. I don't be around too many people.

SHAPIRO: And so is it like a combination of liberation and anxiety?

WATSON: Yeah, extreme anxiety.

SHAPIRO: Do you think that the political leaders are thinking about the African American community when they make these decisions to reopen?

WATSON: Of course not. When we ever considered when policies were made? I mean, that's - I think that, at the end of the day, money is going to outweigh safety. There's going to be casualties behind this country not having a better plan in place and really attacking this from Day 1, you know.

SHAPIRO: Missouri's Republican governor, Mike Parson, says this phased approach to reopening makes sense when you look at where people are getting sick and dying. Here's what he said when I interviewed him last month.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

MIKE PARSON: What we did here in the St. Louis region, we knew that we needed to put resources up there, mobile testing sites. But that's not happening in rural areas of the state. And those cases are not there, and they haven't been there.

SHAPIRO: But many policymakers feel that a public health challenge of this magnitude should have a cohesive national strategy.

GREG FISCHER: There's no question it is not nearly as aligned as what it should be.

SHAPIRO: Greg Fischer is a Democrat and mayor of Louisville, Ky. For the most part, it's closed.

FISCHER: You can see Indiana across the might Ohio River.

SHAPIRO: And Indiana is opening up more quickly.

FISCHER: Indiana's both case rate and death rate is about four times that of Kentucky while their population is just 50% more, so it's required a lot of discussion and explaining to do.

SHAPIRO: I wonder whether you feel frustrated at the disjointed approach, where one side of the river does one thing, another side of the river does another thing. And this is really what we're seeing all over the country. It's not just Indiana and Kentucky.

FISCHER: Yeah. I don't think it's a by-state issue. It's more of a national issue. Ideally, we would have a national policy here so that we're all singing in concert as the country right now. So we realize that's not the case. Cities and states are on their own. So we're building that capacity from the ground up. I think we're doing a good job from what we have to work with, but it's too bad we couldn't have a more aligned national strategy around this.

SHAPIRO: So is that a yes to the frustration question?

FISCHER: That's my frustration.

SHAPIRO: There are experiments happening all over the country right now. The stakes are high. There is no precedent. And it will be weeks or months until we know the results. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.