Missouri Chamber seeks to protect business from virus suits
O’FALLON, Mo. (AP) — The Missouri Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday urged Gov. Mike Parson to call a special session so lawmakers can take action to protect businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits.
In a letter to the Republican governor, the chamber called coronavirus liability an “emerging problem in Missouri.” The organization cited lawsuits filed by those who believe they contracted COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, on the premises of a business.
The chamber said that under current state law, the lawsuits can move forward regardless of whether businesses were taking precautions aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus.
Chamber President Daniel P. Mehan said companies “that are making a good faith effort and taking the necessary precautions should not face crippling COVID-19 litigation.”
Parson, during his afternoon news conference, said any special session would need to involve multiple issues. But he also expressed concerns about coronavirus-related lawsuits.
“We’re not going to let attorneys go out here and sue everybody because they were doing their jobs,” Parson said.
Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys President Brett Emison said in a statement that state laws already protect health workers during crises including the coronavirus pandemic. He said Missourians shouldn’t have to give up their constitutional right to access the courts because of COVID-19.
“If businesses have no accountability, how can employees and customers feel safe?” he said.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
Parson said it is vital for the economic recovery to ramp up testing across the state. He said the goal is to test 7,500 people each day.
“The more people we test, the quicker we can identify and isolate positive patients, and the more confidence we can give Missourians to re-engage in the economy,” Parson said.
Republican state Sen. Bob Onder is urging the state health department to drop a proposed regulation that would give local health departments permanent authority to close schools, churches and other gatherings. A March 20 emergency order gave local departments that power during the coronavirus pandemic, Onder, of St. Charles County, said.
“We ought to be really skeptical about doing this in the future absent clear-cut evidence that that was necessary,” Onder said in an interview. “Because heaven knows we’ve done just terrible, terrible damage to our economy and to people’s lives with some doubt as to whether it was the right course.”
The letter was signed by Onder and 18 Republican colleagues.
St. Louis-area kids and families bored at home during the coronavirus shutdown will start to see new options open up next month, when the St. Louis Zoo, summer camps and swimming pools all are expected to reopen.
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page announced Wednesday that summer camps will likely be able to open starting June 1. County officials are still working on guidelines. A news release from the county said officials are hoping to allow pools to open in early June.
Meanwhile, the St. Louis Zoo announced that it will reopen June 13, though with enhanced measures that seek to limit the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.
Across the state, the Kansas City Zoo opened Saturday. Summer camps also began earlier this month in Kansas City.
But St. Louis city and county have taken the brunt of the coronavirus in Missouri, accounting for more than half of the state’s 11,232 confirmed cases and about two-thirds of the 631 deaths. While most of the state reopened May 4, St. Louis and St. Louis County began a phased-in reopening approach on Monday.
The zoo will limit attendance and require timed reservations, a news release said. It will begin accepting reservations June 8. Staff will be required to wear facial coverings, as will guests over the age of 9, except those with excused medical conditions.
St. Louis County has released few details about how summer camps will operate in what Page described as the “new normal,” but some contact sports may be limited or prohibited.
AP reporter Summer Ballentine in Columbia, Mo., contributed to this report.