St. Louis County Executive Sam Page announced a new mask mandate last week, effective immediately, after the county was blocked from enforcing a prior order.
The new mandate, announced by Page in a press conference Sept. 27, is nearly identical to the previous mandate Page and the county Health Department attempted to instate in July: All individuals over the age of 5 must wear a face covering in indoor public spaces, regardless of vaccination status.
“Masks work in helping to keep our cases from escalating in St. Louis County,” Page said. “We have a mask requirement in place to help keep our children safe … and masks help us mitigate the virus while we continue doing all we can to get those who are eligible vaccinated.”
The July mask mandate has been caught in legal limbo for the past few months after the St. Louis County Council voted against it in July, and following a lawsuit filed by Attorney General Eric Schmitt.
A St. Louis County judge ordered a temporary restraining order against enforcement of the July mandate, which Page’s administration hoped would be resolved when the council changed course in August and passed a resolution 4-0 in support of the mandate. However, the judge said the July mandate was still not enforceable.
Page said Monday the county health department believed that issuing a new masking order would be in line with the judge’s order.
“The judge has indicated that a new mask order is the best way to manage this question,” Page said.
Schmitt filed a motion to renew and enforce the preliminary injunction already imposed on the July order also be applied to the new mandate.
“The County Defendants, acting through Defendant Khan, have tried to impose exactly the same Mask Mandate that this Court has already ordered them three times not to enforce. Their fourth attempt is just as illegal as the first three, and their latest gambit appears designed to sow even greater public confusion about the legal status of their Mask Mandate,” the motion stated.
The County Council met with acting Health Department Director Faisal Khan Oct. 5 to discuss the mask mandate, after The Call went to Press. Based on a new state law, the council must act within 30 days to extend any COVID-related order.
“Push back against masks has slowed progress against the virus. The confusion caused by misinformation about masks and vaccines is dangerous,” Page said. “Defying common sense makes no sense and comes at the expense of those who are at risk of becoming seriously ill or dying of this virus.”
Third District Councilman Tim Fitch tweeted last week that the new masking order was not enforceable.
“St. Louis Countians – I wouldn’t give the new masking order any credibility. It’s just another way of giving you the middle finger,” Fitch said on Twitter.
Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Oakville, also had similar thoughts to Fitch, tweeting that Page was “determined to punish the citizens and businesses” of St. Louis County and spend more money on a losing court battle.
“His order protects his ego not our health,” Murphy said on Twitter.
Despite the pushback, Page said his administration was confident that the new mandate was the legal and proper way forward.
“We’re following the guidance of our legal team and the guidance of the judge’s order. … We believe issuing a new order is following the guidance of the court,” Page said. “The judge has given us direction that rather than extending the previous order, the proper pathway forward in the eyes of the circuit court is to issue a new order. … We’ll follow the guidance of the court and we’ll wait and see what their final ruling is on our ability in St. Louis County to issue public health orders.”
Despite cases plateauing somewhat in recent months, the county is sitting at a positivity rate of 7.8 percent, which is still considered “high transmission” according to criteria from the Centers for Disease Control. The CDC recommends universal indoor masking in areas of high transmission.
As of Oct. 3, the county is recording an average of 212 new cases per day.