ST. LOUIS – St. Louis City and St. Louis County start new mask mandates Monday. Mayor Tishaura Jones and County Executive Dr. Sam Page want to cap new COVID cases in the region.
Jones and Page made the announcement together on Friday, and the resistance from other leaders was almost immediate.
The statement requires masks to be worn in indoor public places and on public transportation beginning Monday. The new health order will require everyone ages 5 and over, including those who are vaccinated, to wear a mask. Wearing masks outdoors, especially in group settings, will be strongly encouraged.
Jones and Page held a joint press conference Monday morning to take questions about the new mask mandate. They were motivated to issue the mandate because of the surge in COVID cases among young adults between 20 and 29 years of age.
A statement from the St. Louis Mayor’s office says that there are some exceptions in the new health orders. They include people who are seated in a restaurant or bar eating and drinking and individuals with disabilities that prevent them from putting on or removing face coverings.
“We’ve lost more than 500 St. Louisans to COVID-19, and if our region doesn’t work together to protect one another, we could see spikes that overwhelm our hospital and public health systems,” writes Dr. Fredrick Echols, acting director of health for the City of St. Louis.
“We came together once to help each other, and I am confident we can do so again,” said Mayor Jones.
Page said local officials will be prioritizing the effort to get more individuals vaccinated.
“For those who are vaccinated this can feel like punishment. Punishment for doing the right thing. I have heard that and I feel that frustration. While the vaccine can prevent serious illness, it can’t protect you from being infected with COVID-19 and passing it along to someone else, someone who may be more vulnerable,” Page said. “Until we get more people vaccinated, we must continue to do what we can to protect ourselves and others. I wish we had more people vaccinated. But right now, this is where we are.”
Meanwhile, County Councilman Tim Fitch immediately called for a vote to take place Tuesday. He wants the St. Louis County Health Director to answer questions about the mandate.
Missouri’s Attorney General Eric Schmitt said he will file a lawsuit Monday pushing for the mandate to end.
“Already we see right-wing politicians trying to tell us what is best for St. Louis. Teeing off against our city to score political points. Our attorney general, who is running for senate and has a history of filing failed lawsuits, wants to file another frivolous lawsuit to suit his own interests at the expense of public health. It is easy to grandstand when your biggest concern is filming your next campaign commercial and chasing clout. Dr. Page and I are taking action now to make sure this crisis does not escalate or spiral even further,” said Mayor Jones.
Dr. Page did not indicate what specific benchmarks it would take to lift the mask mandate. He did say that in the past St. Louis County has used 100 cases per day as a standard to watch for. They are also considering other trends like hospitals capacity and new variants.
Mayor Jones says that only 23% of African Americans are vaccinated but the group accounts for 75% of new cases in the area. St. Louis is involved in efforts to get COVID vaccines to more people.
In Missouri, just 40.8% of the population is fully vaccinated. That number has to increase significantly to remove the mask mandate. Dr. Clay Dunagan of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force speculated it may take an 80% vaccination rate before the order is rescinded.
How will St. Louis City and County enforce the mask mandate? Dr. Page said they are looking at it on a case-by-case basis. He says that the folks who don’t follow the rules will be outliers.
Schools should be reopening in-person this fall with some adjustments for the new mask mandate. Businesses and restaurants will also not be changing capacity. You can read the entire health order here.