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New mask mandate now in effect in St. Louis County

The council voted along party lines, with Democrats voting in favor and Republicans voting against.

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — A mask mandate is now in effect in St. Louis County after the council voted to adopt a new order as COVID-19 cases increase in the county.

The council voted 4-3 Tuesday night in favor of the new mandate, which will require all people over the age of 5 to wear a mask "while in indoor and enclosed public buildings and spaces and public transportation" in St. Louis County. The mandate does not apply to people who are eating or drinking or people alone in separate rooms or offices of public places.

The order went into effect at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday morning.

The council voted along party lines, with Democrats Lisa Clancy, Kelli Dunaway, Rita Heard Days and Shalonda Webb voting in favor and Republicans Tim Fitch, Mark Harder and Ernie Trakas voting against.

During the meeting, there was a discussion on how many votes it would take to enact the mandate. Councilman Fitch stated the mask mandate being proposed was an ordinance and required a two-thirds vote. St. Louis County Counselor Beth Orwick said it was her understanding that a simple majority of four votes was all that was needed. 

"Rest assured if this ordinance or order is passed it will be overturned as well," Fitch said during the meeting. 

The order cites increasing case rates in the county and the effectiveness of medical-grade masks in limiting the spread of COVID-19, including the omicron variant.

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"The intent of this order is to reduce the transmission of COVID-19, including variants thereof, in St. Louis County with the least restrictive effective measure," the order said. "As the CDC has recognized, 'Adopting universal masking policies can help avert future lockdowns, especially if combined with other non-pharmaceutical interventions such as social distancing, hand hygiene, and adequate ventilation.'"

Councilwoman Clancy who asked for the vote, read a letter she said the council received earlier in the day from 200 regional medical professionals. The letter mentioned how hospitals are overwhelmed and called on the county council to adopt a mask order.

St. Louis County Executive Dr. Sam Page took to Twitter shortly after the vote to praise the council for its action. 

"The council’s approval tonight will result in less confusion, more compliance and keep our economy going and our schools open. Masks aren’t restrictions. They are the path to more freedom to move about, stay healthy and look with optimism to the future," Dr. Page tweeted.

It is the first mask mandate in the county since a Cole County judge struck down health orders issued by state and local health departments. The ruling did not include health orders approved by elected bodies, like the county council.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt said he intends to file a lawsuit in an attempt to overturn the mandate.

The City of St. Louis mask mandate was adopted on Nov. 24, the day after the judge’s ruling. It’s filed under Health Commissioner’s Order No. 5 and was adopted by the Board of Aldermen as Resolution  No. 142. It was extended through the new year by the Board of Aldermen last month.

Earlier in the meeting, the Council also voted to reelect Rita Heard Days as chairwoman, and elected Shalonda Webb as vice chair. Councilman Mark Harder had been vice chair.