ST. LOUIS — A mask mandate went back into effect Monday morning in the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County.
The mandate requires people to wear masks in indoor public places and on public transportation. It includes everyone 5 and older, regardless if they are vaccinated. Wearing a mask outside is strongly encouraged, especially in group settings.
Mayor Tishaura Jones and County Executive Sam Page held a joint news conference Monday morning for the first time since the mandate was announced Friday.
They said the decision came as the delta variant spreads throughout Missouri, with health department officials forecasting the spread to continue from southwest and central Missouri up to the St. Louis area.
"The delta variant, the most infectious and dangerous strain of COVID-19, took hold in Springfield, Missouri, before spreading like wildfire around our state and now is on our doorstep," Jones said. "The reality of this virus has changed from a year ago."
The positivity rate was 2.9% on June 1 in St. Louis County but has jumped to 9.9% as of Saturday, Page said.
"These masks save lives," Page said, noting that when restrictions were originally loosened in May, COVID-19 case numbers and vaccine access was heading in the right direction. But now the numbers are "too alarming to ignore," he said. "The delta variant has thrown us a curveball. It's highly transmissible and it's now jeopardizing our progress."
Jones stressed the continued importance of masking and vaccination in reducing the spread of the virus and lightening the load on local hospitals.
"Getting vaccinated is critically important. While you can still catch COVID-19 if you're vaccinated, your risk of ending up seriously sick or in the ICU is greatly reduced. That frees up our hospitals to take care of people who need help, whether they are sick with COVID-19 or not," Jones said.
No end date has been announced for the mandate, though Page said a good goal for St. Louis County would be to see its daily case rate average, which is currently at 228 according to health department data, drop to 100.
Jones and Page also waged criticism against Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who announced plans to file a lawsuit Monday to stop the mandate. Schmitt, a Republican, said in a tweet that he intends to file a lawsuit to "stop this insanity."
The pair accused Schmitt, who is running to fill the U.S. Senate seat of Roy Blunt next term, of using the lawsuit for political gain.
"It’s easy to grandstand when your biggest concern is filming your next campaign commercial and chasing clout,” Jones said.
St. Louis County Councilman Tim Fitch took the podium after the conference in opposition of the mandate, questioning its legality and saying Page should have addressed the council before the mandate was announced.
However, Fitch agreed with the importance of the vaccine.
"Get vaccinated. I can't say it any clearer than that. That is our way out of this, get vaccinated," he said.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson weighed in on Twitter shortly after the conference wrapped Monday morning.
"Dictating mask mandates when we have the vaccine is ignoring the real solution and eroding public trust. From the very beginning of this pandemic, we have recognized the importance of local control; however, re-imposing mask mandates regardless of vaccination status is WRONG and goes against current CDC guidelines," Parson said. "These policies that don't consider vaccination status reduce the incentive of getting the vaccine and undermine its integrity. The vaccine is how we rid ourselves of COVID-19, not mask mandates that ignore common sense."
Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday that the CDC is considering whether to revise its guidance to recommend that even vaccinated people wear masks.
Not all municipalities under the new mandate are on board. Wildwood, Eureka and Chesterfield have all announced that they will not be enforcing the mandate.
Wildwood Mayor Jim Bowlin said mask mandates aren't "workable or practical," though starting Monday he will allow Wildwood businesses to expand sidewalk seating to accommodate more customers.
"If our residents want to patronize those businesses and not be forced to wear a mask inside the building, they can do that on the sidewalk," he said.
You can watch the full news conference below: