CoronavirusNewsPoliticsThe SouthSider

Page keeps mask mandate despite county council rejection

CLAYTON – The St. Louis County Council notwithstanding, County Executive Dr. Sam Page says a new indoor mask mandate for St. Louis County remains in effect.

The council voted 5-2 on Tuesday to lift the mandate, after numerous citizens spoke in opposition during a sometimes-rowdy public comment period. 

But Page said that didn’t apply, and that courts acting on a suit by state Attorney General Eric Schmitt to lift the mandates in the county and the city would make the real decision.

“Elected officials certainly can enter into political rhetoric and name calling and all those things. I don’t think that that is productive,” Page said in a news conference on Wednesday, “but the court will determine where that is.”

The new state law requires a simple majority vote of a governing body when public health restrictions are issued during a pandemic.

On Thursday, Page’s spokesman Douglas Moore said the mandate continued.

“We’re waiting for the court to rule on the [suit],” Moore said.

Page and St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones announced in a news conference on Monday at City Hall that they were reinstating an indoor mask mandate requirement immediately because of the skyrocketing number of new COVID-19 cases. 

“Community transmission of COVID-19 attributable to the Delta variant is at an all-time high across the St. Louis region,” Dr. Faisal Khan, acting director of the St. Louis County Department of Health, said in a statement read at Tuesday’s county council meeting. “The Delta variant is poised to cause more misery, more disease, an increase in hospitalizations, and inflict further damage on the population in the St. Louis region.”

Khan referred questions on whether the county council has the power to rescind the order to the county counselor. But he said that if the council voted to negate the public health order “regardless of whether that’s interpreted as legal or illegal, the ripple effect will be that it will create confusion out in the public. People will not listen to prudent public health advice, and there will be an increase in infections, more misery and more death in St. Louis County.”

Responding to a question from County Councilman Ernie Trakas, a Republican from south St. Louis County, Khan declined to answer whether it would be up to Schnucks or a restaurant, for instance, to enforce the order.

“Isn’t it important, Dr. Khan, that your order be legally sufficient?” Trakas asked. 

“I’m sure it is, sir, but you will have to talk to the county counselor,” Khan replied.

Almost everyone who spoke during a lengthy comment period was against continuing the mask mandate. One speaker said that being forced to wear a mask was an example of overreach.

“It’s not only illegal, it’s unethical, and it needs to be squashed today,” the speaker said. “This council can no longer let Sam Page steamroll his own agenda over them with no consequences,” she argued.

“We never had mandates,” said Michael Kilgus. “This is nothing like the America I grew up in.”

Emily Dallas, a businesswoman from Ballwin, said, “You’re asking us to be the police.”

Craig King, a lawyer, said people were being lied to about the pandemic.

“There are big One World Order-type groups that have secret agencies, secret groups that want to control the world,” King said. “There are videos out there of Bill Gates literally saying the words that we can reduce the world’s population by several billion people through vaccines.”

One person spoke in favor of wearing masks.

“I’ve lost several family members and friends to COVID,” he said. “We are dying, we are sick, so I would want something to be done about it.”

In debate on the measure to end the mandate, Fifth District County Councilwoman Lisa Clancy said the mask mandate would save lives.

“I have young children. I fear for my kids right now, and I fear for your kids and your grandkids,” Clancy said. “I will always support public health and science, and I want my constituents and everyone in our region to count on me to be able to do that.”

Third District County Councilman Tim Fitch, who sponsored the measure, offered a different view.

“Sam Page and his supporters tonight have done their best to make the discussion about mask versus no mask. They want to divide us,” Fitch said. “Before we have that discussion, we have to settle his blatant violation of state law, the County Charter and county ordinances.”

Those voting against the measure were Second District Councilwoman Kelli Dunaway and Clancy. Voting in favor were Councilwoman Rita Heard Days, the council chair; Fitch; Fourth District Councilwoman Shalonda D. Webb; Trakas; and Seventh District Councilman Mark Harder, the council vice chair.

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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