ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — The confusion over whether there is a mask mandate in St. Louis County was cleared up Thursday morning – the mandate has been rescinded.
Acting St. Louis County Health Director Dr. Faisal Khan sent a letter stating the mandate is no more and it was removed from the county website. In it, he cites the recent ruling from Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green that ordered local health orders are illegal and should be lifted.
Green said the orders violate the Missouri Constitution’s separation of powers clause affecting the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. He ordered all existing health orders issued by local health officials are “null and void.”
“I issued a Face Covering Order on September 27, 2021. On November 22, a Judgement was issued in Shannon Robinson, et al. v. Department of Health and Senior Services, Case No. 20AC-CC00515, pending in the Circuit Court of Cole County. The September 27, 2021 Face Covering Order was removed from the County website. It is now rescinded,” Khan wrote in his letter Thursday morning.
The acting health director said he has recommended a new face mask mandate in the weeks since that ruling, but the County Council has declined to act on the measures.
“I continue to strongly recommend that St. Louis County residents and guests wear masks indoors in public spaces. Masks save lives,” he wrote.
The health department also echoed that recommendation in an emailed statement.
"Numerous studies have shown the effectiveness of masks in reducing transmission of COVID-19. As new COVID cases continue to increase sharply and the Omicron variant of the virus poses an additional threat in the middle of the regular Influenza season, residents should heed the advice of public health: Get vaccinated, maintain a safe social distance wherever possible, wash your hands with soap and water frequently and thoroughly and continue to wear masks in all indoor public spaces," the statement reads.
St. Louis County’s mask mandates have been caught up in controversy, confusion, court hearings and lawsuits for months, which have only increased in the last couple weeks following the ruling.
On Tuesday, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt sent letters to public health departments and public schools ordering them to stop enforcing public health measures, like mask mandates and quarantine orders, unless they were passed after the judge’s ruling and follow state statutes.
Schmitt, who frequently filed lawsuits and took St. Louis County to court over its mask mandates, called Thursday’s announcement a win.
“This is a huge win for the citizens of St. Louis County and the people of Missouri. Although we have consistently held that St. Louis County’s mask mandates were illegally imposed in the first place, this is the right move and is consistent with the recent judgment from the Cole County Circuit Court. We expect more local public health authorities and school districts to follow suit in the coming days and weeks," Schmitt said in an emailed statement.
Tuesday night, just hours after Schmitt ordered health departments to stop enforcing mask mandates, the St. Louis County Council discussed a possible new order, but ultimately the measure wasn't voted on because of questions over how the legislation was filed.
Councilwoman Lisa Clancy, a Democrat, filed legislation calling for a vote on a countywide mask mandate, but Councilwoman Tim Fitch, a Republican, filed opposition saying the legislation did not go through the normal legislative process. Fitch's order of opposition was sustained, and the council didn't vote on a mask mandate.
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said Thursday morning the health department continues to recommend residents wear masks.
“Because of the Cole County order & the council’s decision not to approve a new face covering order, the Dept. of Public Health director this morning rescinded the prior face covering order. The Health Dept. continues to recommend masks in indoor settings. Covid cases are rising,” Page tweeted.
What's next in St. Louis County?
Councilman Fitch told 5 On Your Side that Missouri state statute says you can only have one mandate every 180 days. The latest mandate that was issued in September expired Oct. 26, Fitch stated, which he said means April 26 is the next time the county council can vote on a mask mandate.
"So until April 26, the council can't pass any other ordinance or rule or mandate related to this particular health issue that we're talking about here today," he said Thursday.
"What we can do, and will continue to do is recommend, strongly recommend and give people guidance on what they can do to stay safe," Fitch added.
How businesses are handling masks
While the county's mask mandate has been rescinded, private businesses — such as restaurants and retailers — can still require customers to wear masks inside their establishments.
The mask mandate confusion has "been a mess," said restaurateur Qui Tran, who owns Mai Lee and Nudo House — the latter of which has locations in the city and county.
"The rules have been different for the city and county," he said Thursday. "I’ll tell you what, last week I had to look up mask mandates for city and county because they keep changing it, you don’t know what the heck is going on."
The City of St. Louis said this week its mandate remains in place; it was approved after the judge's ruling.
Tran said his businesses will continue to follow the rules of local health officials.
"If they say there’s a mask mandate, then we will apply it, and if they lift it, then we will leave it up to our guests," Tran said, adding that he and most of his staff will continue to mask up.
Cut N Dye Salon owner Missy Brandt said there has been a mask mandate at her Richmond Heights business, and it's not going away after Thursday's development.
"We are not changing that at all," Brandt said. "We’re always six inches from somebody’s face. I just don’t feel comfortable putting people at risk like that."
There are 13 stylists at her hair salon, and with this being the busy season for hair cuts and styles right now, each employee can see up to eight people a day.
"I'm going to protect my people," she said adamantly.
Read the full letter rescinding the mask mandate order below: