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'What do we do?': After judge rules local health mandates illegal, some are left with confusion in St. Louis County

County Councilman Tim Fitch says, "We haven't had a legal mask mandate since the council issued one in December 2020 and it expired in January."

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — It's null and void.

That's what a Missouri circuit court judge is saying about existing health orders in the state curbing the spread of COVID-19.

Cole County Court Judge Daniel Green has made a ruling that local mandates are illegal.

A lawsuit was filed in 2020 at the height of the pandemic when multiple jurisdictions issued health mandates.

Among those who filed suit was Ben Brown, owner of Satchmo's Bar and Grill in St. Louis County. Brown, who is running for state Senate, said the orders were an example of “tyranny.”

On Tuesday, Judge Daniel Green's ruling came down that the orders like quarantines and business closures violate the state's constitution separation of powers clause. 

Since the courts nullify statutes, regulations and orders by executives, this means the ruling stays.

In St. Louis County, County Executive Sam Page and the health department say a mask order is in place.

However, Green says existing health orders issued by local health authorities are "null and void."

Credit: KSDK

Frank Romano makes fresh coffee for guests coming in, as Parkmoor staff hand out Thanksgiving orders.

Romano tries to keep up and not just with his customers.

"We heard the ruling this morning. What does this mean for our customers? What do we do?" Romano asked. 

It's a question many are wondering.

If you ask St. Louis County Councilman Tim Fitch, he has an answer.

"There's no mask mandate in St. Louis County. We haven't had a legal mask mandate since the council issued one in December 2020 and it expired in January. I've been talking since last spring, not this past spring, spring of 2020 about the inability of the public health director to issue these mandates," Fitch said.

Fitch tells 5 On Your Side one mandate was canceled in July and with a new state law kicking in, the next time the council would even be able to vote on a mask mandate would be early next year.

"With the state law you can only have one mandate every 180 days, the next time the council and I'm not talking about the public health director, the next time, the council could even take this up would be January of 2022," Fitch said. 

Plus, two-thirds of the council would need to vote in favor of it.

"I have no problem saying that the public health director recommends wearing a mask, but don't tell them it's a mandate and that's what he's been doing and it's just wrong," Fitch said. 

Fitch said he isn't against masking, but rather how it's implemented.

"Only the legislative body, so the county council, are the only ones that can issue these kind of mandates," Fitch said. 

Digesting this new information are school leaders.

The organization EdPlus working with 60 school districts across the region is hosting a meeting Monday with regional superintendents. 

They'll have legal counsel to see what they need to do to be in compliance with the ruling.

"Our school districts are certainly aware of the ruling," CEO Paul Ziegler said. "I don't anticipate any schools changing for Monday morning. What I think many schools will do is try to navigate and figure out what this really means for them, and that can be different in different counties. Our schools need a little time to make sure, whatever they roll out as new mitigating layers or the way they approach this, that it complies with the law and it’s not a knee-jerk reaction."

As for general managers like Romano, they are going to continue doing what's best for their business model.

"We don't look at the politics, we just say we're going to wear masks until they say it's safe to not wear them anymore. We want them to be safe, we recommend masks," Romano said. 

As for St. Louis city, a spokesperson said this does not apply to them and the city's mask mandate stays in place.

This is because their own legislature, the board of aldermen, keeps voting for a mask mandate to remain.