After five weeks of contentious debate, the St. Louis County Council adopted a resolution in a special meeting last week showing support for the countywide public health order requiring masks be worn indoors and on public transportation, regardless of vaccination status.
The council voted 4-0 in favor of the resolution Aug. 27, with the three Republicans on the council, 3rd District Councilman Tim Fitch, 6th District Councilman Ernie Trakas and 7th District Council Mark Harder, abstaining. Chairwoman Rita Days, 2nd Distict Councilwoman Kelli Dunaway, 4th District Councilwoman Shalonda Webb and 5th District Councilwoman Lisa Clancy voted in favor.
The resolution expresses support for a public health order that was put in place just over a month ago July 26 in St. Louis County, requiring masks be worn in indoor public places and on public transportation. St. Louis city issued a similar mandate the same day.
Since then, the mandate has been the subject of spirited public comment nearly every week at the Tuesday County Council meetings. The council struck down the July 26 mandate at its meeting the very next day, with Days and Webb voting with Trakas, Fitch and Harder against it.
The issue has since been in political limbo and remains unenforceable after a judge filed a temporary restraining order against enforcement of the mandate.
Fitch, Harder and Trakas all said that they were abstaining from voting on the resolution on the grounds that it is only symbolic, therefore they would not legitimize it with a vote.
“Why would I vote yes or no on something that is illegal. Again, it goes back to this is a ceremonial … resolution, meaning it has no impact on law,” Fitch said. “I can’t support this.”
Webb, who represents parts of North County, said she would be voting in favor of the resolution because it was what her constituents wanted to see.
“I will be working on behalf of North County as I promised to serve to do. And from what they shared with me, they want me to support this resolution,” said Webb. “I will do what my constituents have asked me to do and I will support this resolution.”
There was a question of whether or not the public health order would be expiring soon anyways, since under new state statute, orders can only last for 30 days while the state is in a state of emergency before a vote of the local legislative body. If the state is not in a state of emergency, orders can only stand for 21 days. Gov. Mike Parson ended Missouri’s state of emergency last week.
After the meeting Friday, Webb, Clancy, Days and Dunaway, along with County Executive Sam Page, released a joint statement regarding the vote.
“Over the last year, our County has relied on women … to blunt the force of a virus that threatens to overwhelm our healthcare system. … So, it is no surprise that the actions taken … were led by Chairwoman Rita Heard Days, Councilwoman Shalonda Webb, Councilwoman Lisa Clancy and Councilwoman Kelli Dunaway,” the statement said. “Our message is now clear: wear your mask to fight the virus. And get vaccinated.”
Friday’s special meeting followed a lengthy Committee of the Whole meeting Aug. 26, where the council heard from Acting St. Louis County Health Director Faisal Khan, county health officials and infectious disease specialists about the need for masking to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Despite the resolution’s adoption, there is still a temporary restraining order against the mandate, meaning there is no active mask mandate in the county at press time.