St. Louis County Executive Sam Page talked about the new variant and the ongoing mask mandate debate during his COVID-19 briefing on Monday.
Page continued to urge the public to wear masks and get vaccinated and said the county will continue to have a mask mandate as long as that is the advice of public health experts.
“As far as other restrictions, I don’t think we’re there,” he said. “If we can keep masks on folks and continue to get folks vaccinated, we’re at 64% now for first dose, continue that pathway then I think we’ll get to the other side of this.”
The St. Louis County Council is expected to vote on a mask mandate during Tuesday’s meeting.
The agenda item from Councilwoman Lisa Clancy cites a state health department analysis that was discovered through an open-records request. It found Missouri cities that require masks to combat the coronavirus pandemic this year saw fewer infections and deaths.
"The Council must uphold its commitment to serve the residents of our region by doing what we know will slow the spread of COVID-19," the agenda item states.
Page said if the council votes to support it, then he believes more people will continue wearing masks.
“If more people are wearing masks then St. Louis County will be better off," he said. "We hope the County Council will continue our policy of masking in the county because it will save lives."
There has been a lot of confusion about the mask mandate after a ruling from a Missouri judge prohibited local leaders from imposing public health orders. The county was in court last week defending the mandate, but no final decisions were made.
The county was not listed as part of the lawsuit, so county attorney Neal Perryman said they need time to work through the ramifications of the judge’s ruling.
The judge delayed any decisions until their next meeting on Dec. 9.
Councilman Tim Fitch filed an agenda item for Tuesday night that cites the ruling, saying Clancy's request doesn't meet state requirements.
The St. Louis County Council meeting starts at 6:30 p.m.
During his briefing Monday, Page said he’s been closely monitoring omicron, which is now in the St. Louis area.
“With the first Missouri case reported in St. Louis city on Friday, we know that other cases of the variant will be confirmed in the region in the coming days,” he said. “We just don’t know the extent of the variant’s reach or the impact it’s going to have on our community.”
Page said the county is concerned that omicron will result in more cases. The county is averaging 255 new cases a day, which is a 9.5% increase from the prior week. The positivity rate is now 8.4%.
“Medical experts worry that with increased indoor gatherings during the holidays, the number of cases will continue to increase,” he said.
Page said since there isn’t a lot of data on the new variant, it’s unknown how serious it is at this point.
“It does appear to spread quickly, as it did in South Africa, and it appears to be moving quickly across the world and we will take that seriously,” he said. “It does have a great many mutations, more mutations than previous variants, and that’s not a good sign.”
He said it's unknown how the variant will respond to the vaccine but medical experts believe the vaccine should be effective against omicron for serious disease.