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Judge Temporarily Blocks St. Louis County Indoor Mask Mandate

Hundreds of people, mostly unmasked, gathered at a St. Louis County Council meeting last week to protest a new mask mandate. St. Louis health officials confirmed this weekend that an attendee from St. Louis tested positive for the coronavirus, and they worry the event may spark a wider outbreak of the virus.
Chad Davis
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Hundreds of people, mostly unmasked, gathered at a St. Louis County Council meeting last week to protest a new mask mandate. St. Louis health officials confirmed this weekend that an attendee from St. Louis tested positive for the coronavirus, and they worry the event may spark a wider outbreak of the virus.

St. Louis County's mask mandate has been halted by a circuit court until at least Aug. 17. The ruling follows a recent lawsuit from Attorney General Eric Schmitt challenging the restrictions.

A circuit judge Tuesday issued a temporary restraining order blocking St. Louis County’s indoor mask mandate — which only went into effect last week.

Representatives for Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt and St. Louis County argued in court Tuesday morning. The attorney general’s office said the county’s mask order violated a new state law that restricts local leaders from issuing public health orders for businesses, churches and schools. County representatives said the mandate didn’t violate the new law because mask mandates don’t restrict or close businesses.

The restraining order, issued by Judge Ellen Ribaudo on Tuesday afternoon, will remain in effect until at least another hearing Aug. 17.

The ruling comes a week after County Executive Sam Page and the St. Louis County Department of Public Health initiated the mandate following a rise in coronavirus cases. The St. Louis County Council then voted the next day 5-2 to reverse the mask mandate during a contentious public meeting.

Page said the mandate remained in effect until a judge ruled, while the council majority said their vote eliminated the mandate. The city of St. Louis instituted a mask mandate at the same time as the county.

Councilman Tim Fitch, R-St. Louis County, said he supports the restraining order.

The council’s all ears,” Fitch said. “Let’s sit down with this county executive, sit down with this health department, tell us why you want to do what you want to do instead of working around us.”

Ribaudo said the council may have the authority to strike down the restriction. Ribaudo said a temporary restraining order is also necessary since Page and the county council are arguing what should be enforced.

“If this court were not to act in this moment the residents who support the face covering measure and those who oppose the measure are left to their own devices in deciding whether or not to wear a mask while in public places,” Ribaudo wrote in her order.

Schmitt praised Tuesday’s ruling calling it a “huge win” for St. Louis County residents.

“This is an important, hard-fought victory, but our fight against unreasonable and unconstitutional government overreach continues,” Schmitt said in a statement.

Ribaudo said the decision is based on the mandate’s legality in reference to the new state law.

“The court notes that although some will take this court's ruling as a victory there is no victory while the COVID-19 virus remains a significant threat to public health and there is no question it remains a significant threat to public health,” Ribaudo said. “There can be no victory until the residents of St. Louis County and the State of Missouri are no longer risking their health, well being and lives at the hands of COVID-19 virus.”

St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force leader Dr. Clay Dunagan reiterated concerns over the rapid spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus and worries that the more hospitalizations will put more pressure on the healthcare system.

“Our nurses, our doctors, our therapists, all of those who work in healthcare and even the facilities that we deliver healthcare in are getting stretched and we can’t sustain the current increase,” Dunagan said.

The St. Louis County Council is expected to revisit the mask mandate Tuesday night. Councilwoman Lisa Clancy, D-Maplewood, plans to introduce legislation requiring all residents, vaccinated or not, to wear masks in public places. The mandate comes following a rise in coronavirus cases in Missouri. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines last week calling for people to wear masks in indoor public places regardless of their vaccination status.

Page said in a tweet that he recommends people continue to wear masks.

“We are disappointed in the judge’s decision as more and more mask requirements are put in place across the country to help slow this deadly virus,” Page wrote. “The CDC recommends wearing masks in public places and we ask everyone to follow that guidance as we continue our vaccine efforts.”

Follow Chad on Twitter @iamcdavis

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

Chad Davis is a 2016 graduate of Truman State University where he studied Public Communication and English. At Truman State, Chad served as the executive producer of the on-campus news station, TMN Television. In 2017, Chad joined the St. Louis Public Radio team as the fourth Race and Culture Diversity Fellow. Chad is a native of St. Louis and is a huge hip- hop, r&b, and pop music fan. He also enjoys graphic design, pop culture, film, and comedy.
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