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St. Louis County can continue ban on indoor dining, appeals court rules

The Missouri Court of Appeals sided with the county in a lawsuit filed by restaurants that challenged the ban on indoor dining

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — Another ruling has sided with St. Louis County, saying its health order banning indoor dining can continue.

On Friday, the Missouri Court of Appeals sided with the county in a lawsuit filed by restaurants that challenged the ban, the office of St. Louis County Executive Sam Page confirmed.

“St. Louis County’s indoor dining protocols are based on the latest scientific research and expert advice from the Pandemic Task Force and public health professionals. And they are holding back the spread of COVID-19 throughout the County,” Page said.

The owners of about 40 restaurants filed a lawsuit last month saying Page has shown no proof that COVID-19 is spreading at restaurants and that he lacked the authority to declare indoor dining illegal.

Despite the ban, several restaurants continued serving customers inside. Five businesses were ordered to close after repeated notices and warnings, the county said.

“We will continue working to limit the pandemic’s spread so we can get back to normal as quickly as possible," Page said. "We will continue our open and respectful conversations with the restaurant community so that indoor dining can reopen when it is safe.”

The appeals court ruling Friday follows a similar circuit court in Clayton that sided with the county. In all, Page's office said the appeals court is the sixth court to rule in favor of the county’s public health orders since the beginning of the pandemic.

The county’s ban on indoor dining has been in effect since Nov. 17. The original plan was to reevaluate COVID-19 trends and numbers after a month. On Monday, Page said this week would be an important one in deciding whether indoor dining restrictions could be loosened.

“We’ll have to wait and see how this week goes and whether or not we’re trending in the right direction,” he said Monday.

County Executive Page has said county health officials are following guidance from the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, the White House Coronavirus Task Force and other health care leaders in the area.

Page also cited an update the CDC released last Friday that states indoor dining remains a high-risk area for transmission of COVID-19 and listed avoiding nonessential indoor spaces as a recommended public health strategy.

Here is the guidance from the CDC’s website:

“Exposures at nonessential indoor settings and crowded outdoor settings pose a preventable risk to all participants. Indoor venues, where distancing is not maintained and consistent use of face masks is not possible (e.g., restaurant dining), have been identified as particularly high-risk scenarios. Crowded events in outdoor settings have also been linked to spread of SARS-CoV-2, although it can be difficult to isolate the impact of crowded outdoor events from related indoor social interactions. To reduce risk, some restaurants are providing take-away service and well-ventilated open-air dining … Community-level policies can further reduce transmission by promoting flexible worksites (e.g., telework) and hours, as well as by applying limits to occupancy of indoor spaces and to the size of social gatherings.”

This is a developing story and will be updates as 5 On Your Side confirms more information.