Jefferson County mask mandate ordered, overturned within 24 hours

Teacher+Samantha+Wanko+talks+to+incoming+kindergarteners+at+Bierbaum+Elementary++in+the+Mehlville+School+District+this+week+about+procedures+and+Chromebook+pickup.+

Teacher Samantha Wanko talks to incoming kindergarteners at Bierbaum Elementary in the Mehlville School District this week about procedures and Chromebook pickup.

By Erin Achenbach, Staff Reporter

The Jefferson County Health Department voted Thursday night to enact a countywide mask mandate set to begin Monday, Aug. 31, following a meeting that ran over five hours, but then overturned the mandate in an emergency meeting Friday.

The health department’s Board of Trustees approved the mask mandate by a vote of 3-2 and voted unanimously 5-0 to overturn it Friday.

The mask mandate would have applied to businesses and other places in the county and for anyone over the age of 5 where proper social distancing cannot be maintained. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that anyone over the age of 2 wear a mask.

The mandate would have gone into effect Monday.

Both the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County enacted their own mask mandates in early July, but other counties in the region have not yet imposed their own mandates, including St. Charles County and, up until Thursday, Jefferson County.

Just last month, the Jefferson County Health Department had discussed a mask mandate at its board meeting, but at that time decided against imposing the requirement.

The mandate does include some exemptions, including those with medical conditions that prohibit them from wearing a mask and small children.

According to a copy of the ordinance posted on the health department’s Facebook page, under the proposal a person may remove their face mask under circumstances such as being outdoors and able to maintain a distance of 6 feet from others, exercising outdoors or indoors with a distance of 6 feet from others and eating and drinking when in the inside or outside dining area of a restaurant or other establishment that serves food.

In a briefing Monday, Dr. Alexander Garza, chief medical officer of SSM Health and commander overseeing the region’s COVID-19 response through the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, identified south St. Louis County and Jefferson County as the areas in the 15-county region with the highest number of new cases.

As of Monday, Jefferson County was the only area in the region that has a transmission rate higher than 1 — meaning an existing infection causes more than one new infection.

Fox School District Superintendent Nisha Patel announced at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting that masks would be required for all students, kindergarten through 12th. Fox started school Thursday. Initially only teachers, staff as well as students in fourth through 12th grade were required to wear masks while attending school. Fox is offering a hybrid two-days-a-week in class option as well as a fully remote option for students.

According to the Jefferson County Health Department’s COVID-19 dashboard, the county has recorded 2,605 coronavirus cases since the pandemic started and has had 45 deaths.