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'More people would die' | Page says 'symbolic' St. Louis County Council vote would have lifted critical COVID-19 policies

The county charter gives the health director the power to issue public health orders necessary to protect people from the coronavirus, Page said

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — The St. Louis County Council made another move Tuesday night to challenge the county’s COVID-19 regulations, mandates and restrictions, along with the way they are enacted. However, the county executive said the vote was merely “symbolic.”

“The resolution did not have the force of law,” County Executive Sam Page said at his Wednesday morning coronavirus briefing. “It was a symbolic vote that expressed the council’s opinion about public health restrictions.”

The vote came within hours of county health officials ordering four restaurants to shut down for violating St. Louis County’s health order by allowing indoor dining.

A majority of council members voted to pass Resolution #2. Councilman Tim Fitch said the resolution would give the St. Louis County Department of Public Health power to make regulations with the approval of the county council. 

Part of the resolution reads as follows:

“The Department of Public Health…is authorized and empowered, with the approval of the County Council, to make such rules and regulations consistent with the Charter, laws and ordinances as will tend to promote or preserve the health of the County…”

Page said Wednesday the resolution “is not legally effective” and that the county will continue to follow state statutes and the county charter, which give the public health director the power to issue orders to protect residents.

In a tweet Wednesday morning, Fitch said the charter approved by voters on Aug. 4 states the health department should “recommend to the governing entities from time to time such policies as will tend to preserve or promote the public health of the county,” Fitch said the council hasn’t been asked to approve any of the mandates.

“I invite County Executive Page and the Department of Public Health to recommend to the Council which, of the hundreds of pages of rules and regulations they believe are important, so the Council may consider approval of additional restrictions in the coming days and weeks,” Fitch wrote in a news release.

Page accused the council members who voted in favor of the resolution of not fully understanding what would have happened “if it were legally effective” and listed out all the changes, including:

  • Businesses no longer authorized to require customers to wear masks
  • People no longer required to wear masks in gyms
  • Occupancy limits would no longer be in place at any business or other public place
  • No one would be required to cooperate with contact tracers
  • People diagnosed with COVID-19 would no longer be required to self-isolate, limit their contact with others or seek advice from a doctor
  • People who are tested or have been exposed would no longer be required to quarantine to protect the health of others
  • Labs that process COVID-19 tests would no longer be required to notify the county about positive cases
  • Nursing homes wouldn’t have to notify the county if a resident or employee has the virus

“Taking such action would be reckless and it would ensure that COVID-19 would spread beyond the ability of our health care systems to control,” Page said wrapping up the list. “More people would die.”

Watch Sam Page's full Wednesday morning briefing here:

Page asked the council to stop politicizing the pandemic.

“The election is over,” he said. “It should have never been politicized from the start.”

While Fitch asked to work together.

“It is past time for the Council and the County Executive to work together to establish reasonable mandates to protect the health and welfare of county citizens,” Fitch wrote in his release.

Tighter restrictions went into effect in St. Louis County on Nov. 17, shutting down indoor dining once again. Restaurants are still allowed to offer carryout, to-go, curbside and delivery services.

According to a spokesperson for the St. Louis County Health Department, the permits of the following establishments have been suspended for violating the ban on indoor dining:

  • Bartolino’s South
  • Final Destination
  • OT's Bar
  • Satchmo’s Bar and Grill

Each restaurant has the right to ask for a hearing before the suspension becomes final, health department officials said.

RELATED: St. Louis County shuts down 4 restaurants for violating health order

Also Tuesday, several lawmakers and business owners came together with a united message: one person shouldn’t have the final say on restrictions in local municipalities.

“No one person should have the power to make law and shut our businesses down,” said State Senator Andrew Koenig.

The Republican lawmaker and others who joined him referred to St. Louis County Executive Sam Page and the health orders he has enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We don’t want one-person rule,” Koenig stressed to the reporters and people gathered outside Satchmo’s Bar & Grill in Chesterfield for his announcement Tuesday.

Koenig — who represents the 15th district, which includes a large portion of central, southwest and west St. Louis County — released details about the bill he plans to file that would not only limit Page’s powers, but it would restrict the authority of local leaders throughout Missouri.

The main draw of his bill calls for a maximum shutdown of two weeks over a two-year period. Anything beyond that must go through the Missouri General Assembly and then be signed by the governor, Koenig said.

READ MORE: 'We don’t want 1-person rule' | State lawmaker's bill limits local power on COVID-19 restrictions

Page said Wednesday the health orders don't come down to only one person making the decision, that several doctors and public health experts use the advice from local health systems, the pandemic task force and the CDC in deciding what orders to issue.

"They come up with a consensus opinion and the public health director issues the order," Page explained.

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