St. Louis County scraps its mask mandate after ruling from Cole County

County mask mandate rescinded after court ruling

Missouri+Attorney+General+Eric+Schmitt+discusses+the+Safer+Streets+Initiative+at+an+event+in+St.+Louis+%28photo+courtesy+of+the+Missouri+Attorney+Generals+Office%29.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt discusses the Safer Streets Initiative at an event in St. Louis (photo courtesy of the Missouri Attorney General’s Office).

By Erin Achenbach and Lucas Irizarry

St. Louis County rescinded its mask mandate last week after a Cole County judge ruled that Missouri health departments are not authorized to issue them and other COVID-19 mitigation strategies

The decision was announced Dec. 9 and is in tandem with a letter from Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt ordering health departments and public school districts across the state to stop mandatory masking and quarantining orders. 

According to the ruling out of Cole County, mask mandates and other COVID-19 public health orders put into place by unelected health departments and other unelected authority figures are “null and void.” 

The ruling does provide a path for mandates and other health orders to be issued by a body of elected officials, such as the St. Louis County Council. However, the County Council has declined for the past few weeks to take the issue up and nothing was slated for introduction at the Dec. 14 County Council meeting – after The Call went to press. Any mandate would have to go through the council’s legislative process, which could take several weeks.

The St. Louis County Health Department said in a statement that its “strong recommendation” for masking in indoor public spaces remains unchanged, and a news release from the department Dec. 13 outlined the urgency of masking amid an increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the county. 

“New cases of COVID-19 are rising sharply, particularly among children who are being exposed to SARS CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-129, as they resume normal activities. There has been a steep increase in hospitalizations due to COVID-19 in the last few weeks and the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force warned on Dec. 7 that hospitals are facing significant challenges caring for patients because of staffing shortages,” the Dec. 13 news release read.  

County data from Dec. 12 shows that the current positivity rate in the county is 10.4 percent, which is considered high according to metrics from the Centers for Disease Control. The seven-day COVID-19 case rate is 216 per 100,000 individuals and the county is averaging 327 new cases a day.

Across the four main hospital systems in the county (BJC, Mercy, SSM Health and St. Luke’s), the seven-day moving average of hospitalizations increased from 490 Dec. 12 to 496 Dec. 13. It was 480 on Dec. 11.

At a media briefing Dec. 13, County Executive Sam Page said the move by Schmitt is part of a game called “who can be the most irresponsible to ensure the most headlines.” 

“Here’s a headline for you. Those spreading misinformation and bullying are children and the parents are a menace to society,” Page said. “By not taking COVID-19 seriously and selling what amounts to carnival quackery, this pandemic rages on.”

Page said the County Council’s failure to pass a mask mandate recently, despite the spread of a new variant and overloaded hospitals, is “disappointing and irresponsible.” 

As the pandemic continues, researchers have been able to more closely monitor the long-term effects of COVID. Recently, scientists have begun referring to persisting symptoms as post-acute COVID syndrome, or “long-COVID.” Page said this condition affects around a third of COVID patients and there isn’t currently an effective diagnostic plan for those affected. The effort to study and identify this syndrome in St. Louis has recently begun.