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Health leaders call Jefferson County's mask mandate a 'baby step' as cases escalate

Jefferson County's daily case average grew four times in one month

ARNOLD, Mo. — After months of heated debate, a mask mandate goes into effect in Jefferson County on Friday. The health county department voted 3-2 Wednesday to issue the mask order facing escalating case counts.

RELATED: Jefferson County mask mandate passes 3-2

Jefferson County numbers have been exploding since Halloween. In the second week of November, they recorded a 7-day rolling average of 195 new cases per day. The same time period one month prior: 48.

"Our healthcare systems are stretched, and we felt it was the time to take the next step," health department director Kelley Vollmar said.

Vollmar describes the mask mandate as a "baby step," but it's a step some businesses have already embraced.

"We were ahead of the curve a little bit on this," Club Fitness President and CEO Eric Schreimann said.

The regional fitness brand started requiring masks for group fitness classes two weeks ago. As St. Louis City and County leaders ramped up requirements in their jurisdictions, Schreimann said they did so too, but they always sought to take their commitment one step beyond the minimum required of them.

Schreimann said the stringent safety standards are not always the popular decision, but he said they're in the business of health and this mandate supports their decision.

"If it's mandated by our local governments, then we can lean on that and say 'Hey -- you know what -- I understand. It's maybe a nuisance for you, but we want to stay open for you. We want to be here for you.'"

The mask order doesn't carry penalties or fines for violators, so health leaders understand some may be skeptical about its effectiveness.

"I don't think it's going to change anything," resident Jody Cash told 5 On Your Side after the vote.

Still others, like Andrea Braun -- who works in healthcare and supports the mandate -- understand it could present a barrier for people in specific situations.

"I have a husband who's deaf so he can't understand you unless he reads your mouth, so that's going to be kind of hard on him," Braun said.

Under the mandate, those ages 10 and older must wear a mask when they are in contact with other people in public indoor spaces who aren't household members.

The order lasts until Dec. 21, the day of the health department's next meeting. They'll re-examine numbers and issue new guidance at that time.

The mandate says that if the number of positive COVID-19 patients doesn't decrease in 21 days, the county may consider further restrictions, including social gathering sizes, access to restaurants and bars, and the number of people allowed in retail establishments.

Contact reporter Sara Machi on Facebook and Twitter.