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Renewed Mask Mandate Begins In St. Louis: 'These Numbers Are Too Alarming To Ignore'

Christina O’Brien, Manager at Lola and Penelope’s Pet Store in Clayton, takes a call with a customer with her mask on. Mask mandates went back into effect Monday, July 26, 2021 at businesses in St. Louis and St. Louis County.
Kendall Crawford
St. Louis Public Radio
Christina O’Brien, Manager at Lola and Penelope’s Pet Store in Clayton, takes a call with a customer with her mask on. Mask mandates went back into effect Monday, July 26, 2021 at businesses in St. Louis and St. Louis County.

After months of being able to go mask-free, people in St. Louis and St. Louis County will be required to wear masks indoors to keep the coronavirus from spreading — even if they've gotten the COVID-19 vaccine.

People in St. Louis and St. Louis County are now required to wear masks in all indoor public spaces to protect against the coronavirus as a new joint health order goes into effect.

The order applies to everyone age 5 and older. It carves out exemptions for those with disabilities and who are eating or drinking in restaurants and bars. People who are alone inside a private office or separate interior space don’t have to wear a face covering. Unlike earlier orders, it does not include exceptions for people who have received the COVID-19 vaccine.

Page and Jones, both Democrats, are implementing mask requirements as cases in the St. Louis region begin to rise and the Delta variant of the coronavirus has become dominant across Missouri.

“Even if you aren’t concerned for yourself, think about the people in your life and in our region who need to be protected from this virus,” St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones said. “We came together once to protect each other and I am confident we can do so again.”

Vaccination rates in the region are too low to keep the virus from spreading, particularly in neighborhoods with a high percentage of Black residents, who make up a majority of new cases in the region, Jones said.

County officials want to keep the mandate in place until case numbers decrease or vaccination rates go up, County Executive Sam Page said.

On June 1, the county recorded 40 new coronavirus cases in St. Louis County, he said. Nearly two months later, on Saturday, the county tallied 218 new coronavirus cases.

Page acknowledged that for vaccinated people, the new rules may “feel like punishment for doing the right thing.”

But “these numbers are too alarming to ignore,” Page said. “Masks have become a symbol of a political divide in our country but they’re not a bridge too far, as some might say. Rather, they put the virus in the slow lane and give us time to get more people vaccinated.”

St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis and St. Louis County officials are among the first in the nation to impose a renewed masking requirement as case numbers begin to increase again.

The state is at the epicenter of the latest spike in cases. Missouri, Arkansas, Florida and Louisiana are the states with the four highest rates of new cases in the country.

In the spring, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidance saying vaccinated people could resume most activities mask-free.

However, some federal health officials have come out in favor of a return to masking. U.S. Surgeon General last week told NPR reporters that vaccinations and masking were both vital to keeping the Delta variant from spreading more and encouraged the CDC to revise its guidance.

Other state and local politicians were quick to point out city and county officials put the new rule in place with no feedback from the city’s Board of Alderman or members of the County Council.

A statewide law that went into effect in Junelimits the ability of local executives to put such restrictions in place, said County Council member Tim Fitch, a Republican.

“The conversation we’ll have tomorrow night is ‘does the county executive have the authority to issue these mandates? The answer is legally and clearly that he does not,” Fitch said, referring to the council’s meeting Tuesday. “Come to us and ask for our support and let us decide.”

Renewing mask mandates when the vaccine is available “erodes public trust,” Republican Gov. MIke Parson wrote on Twitter.

“These policies that don’t consider vaccination status, reduce the incentive of getting the vaccine and undermine its integrity,” Parson wrote. “The vaccine is how we rid ourselves of COVID-19, not mask mandates that ignore common sense.”

Fitch and other County Council members have asked Page and County Health Director Dr. Faisal Khan to appear at Tuesday’s meeting to discuss the new rule.

Follow Sarah on Twitter:Petit_Smudge

Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Sarah Fentem reports on sickness and health as part of St. Louis Public Radio’s news team. She previously spent five years reporting for different NPR stations in Indiana, immersing herself deep, deep into an insurance policy beat from which she may never fully recover. A longitme NPR listener, she grew up hearing WQUB in Quincy, Illinois, which is now owned by STLPR. She lives in the Kingshighway Hills neighborhood, and in her spare time likes to watch old sitcoms, meticulously clean and organize her home and go on outdoor adventures with her fiancé Elliot. She has a cat, Lil Rock, and a dog, Ginger.
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