Business survey gave reopening advice to Missouri governor

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – With Missourians under a stay-at-home order this spring as a coronavirus precaution, the Associated Industries of Missouri began surveying businesses to gauge how they were affected and gather suggestions for reopening the economy.

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The results went straight to Gov. Mike Parson’s top staff, according to email records provided to The Associated Press under the state Sunshine Law. Less than a week later, the Republican governor announced that all businesses could reopen – one of the quickest restarts nationally.

The Missouri business survey is just one of many examples of how governors across the U.S. were inundated with reopening advice from a wide range of industries during a critical early juncture in the nation’s battle against the worst pandemic in a century and the resulting recession.

Many governors chose to reopen before their states met all the nationally recommended health guidelines, which include a sustained downward rate of infection and robust testing and contact tracing. Since then, confirmed COVID-19 cases have surged in most states, including Missouri.

“I think states felt a lot of pressure to reopen because of the economic pain that the communities were experiencing,” said Anita Cicero, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security.

The Associated Press filed open-records requests in May seeking copies of communications between governors’ offices and health, business and local government organizations during the period when they were considering reopening plans. The AP received records at no cost from at least 15 states, including Missouri. A few states sought to charge the AP hundreds or thousands of dollars. Many others still haven’t provided records, citing delays in complying with open-records laws because of the coronavirus.

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Records provided by Parson’s office included a survey of 146 businesses conducted by Associated Industries of Missouri from April 15-20. About two-thirds of respondents said their business had significantly declined during the pandemic. The survey results also included extensive comments from business leaders.

Some urged caution and a gradual approach to reopening.

“We would love to be back to normal, but not if it creates a second wave of risk,” wrote one person. Another warned: “The lack of available testing for COVID-19 makes it reckless to relax the present stay at home orders.”

But more business leaders pleaded to allow customers back in their doors.

“RE-Start our economy before we don’t have one. Please,” implored one survey respondent. Another wrote: “Just get out of the way and LET US GO TO WORK!!!!!!”

The results were forwarded to Parson’s chief of staff April 21 with an explanation from Associated Industries of Missouri President Ray McCarty that the governor was getting them before others.

“Thank you, this is really helpful and informative,” replied Parson’s chief of staff, Aaron Willard.

Less than a week later, Parson announced that all Missouri businesses could re-open May 4, so long as they implemented social distancing guidelines.

Parson spokeswoman Kelli Jones told the AP the business survey “provided quality information” and that the administration has “attempted to reach out and engage with all stakeholders who have been impacted by COVID-19.”

McCarty told the AP he sent the survey to Parson’s office unsolicited and was pleased with the way the governor handled the reopening.

“I think most businesses at that point wanted to be able to reopen. They thought they could do reopening safely,” he said.


Follow David A. Lieb on Twitter: @DavidALieb

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