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Attorney general sues St. Louis over ‘unconstitutional’ mask mandate

Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed a lawsuit Monday evening in an attempt to block the newly-imposed mask mandate in the city and county of St. Louis. The Republican attorney general called the mandates “unacceptable and unconstitutional” while arguing St. Louis has a “history of unconstitutional restrictions.” 

On Monday, St. Louis implemented an order requiring masks to be worn by all individuals over the age of 5 — regardless of vaccination status — while indoors. Health officials noted the rising COVID-19 cases in Missouri in the past month, particularly as the delta variant spreads. 

The new mandate comes less than two months after a previous face covering requirement was lifted. 

“We are among the first counties to reinstate a mask requirement,” St. Louis County Executive Dr. Sam Page said. “Let’s be among the first to eradicate this pandemic.” 

The mandate does not have an end date. Multiple mayors have said they will not require its enforcement in their towns, and some Republican lawmakers have raised concerns that it could run afoul of a new law restricting just how local officials can impose health orders. 

“This continued government overreach is unacceptable and unconstitutional, especially in the face of a widely available vaccine. There is absolutely no scientific reason to continue to force children to wear a mask in school,” Schmitt said. “I will continue to fight this seemingly unending control and intrusion on peoples’ lives — we will not back down.” 

The 37-page lawsuit filed in the 21st Judicial Circuit Court in St. Louis County Monday evening asked for the mandate to be declared “unconstitutional, unlawful, arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable, and invalid” under state law. The lawsuit said HB 271, signed by Gov. Mike Parson earlier this month, required a report showing the need for such an order, but one was not provided. 

Specifically, the attorney general’s lawsuit argued a mask mandate for children is arbitrary given the decreased risk of contracting COVID-19 among younger people. It also alleged masks could hamper a child’s development. 

Additionally, the lawsuit alleged the mask mandate could restrict religious exercise. 

Nearly 11,000 positive coronavirus cases have been reported in Missouri over the past seven days along with 18 deaths. Nearly 1,700 people are hospitalized, including 471 in the ICU, according to data from Missouri’s health department. 

In St. Louis County, two people have died and 1,207 positive cases have been confirmed over the past week. Only 45 percent of the county’s population has completed vaccination. The city has an even lower vaccination rate of 35 percent with more than 400 new cases confirmed over the past week. 

In response to Schmitt’s lawsuit, St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones said: “Our top priority is protecting the health, safety, and wellbeing of the people of St. Louis City and County. Nobody is surprised that the Attorney General plans to file yet another frivolous lawsuit to serve his own political ambitions.” 

Schmitt is running for U.S. Senate to take over Senator Roy Blunt’s seat. 

Parson decried the mask mandates in a series of tweets Monday, arguing the orders undermine the state’s push to incentive vaccines. Missouri lags behind most other states in the country in terms of vaccinations. 

St. Louis County Councilwoman Shalonda Webb, too, criticized the new mandate in a lengthy statement Monday — particularly as the county executive and mayor implemented the orders without input from the county council. She stressed the importance of vaccinations. 

“Chaos and dysfunction in government only adds to people’s belief that their government cannot be trusted,” Webb said. “At this time, I implore those that are unmasked and unvaccinated to please consider doing one or the other. Otherwise, this cycle of uncertainty will continue.” 

St. Louis was one of the first places to implement a mask mandate in the fall of 2020. Schmitt’s lawsuit said St. Louis county and city have had some of the most restrictive health orders but highest case and death rates in Missouri. 

Overall, more than 9,500 Missourians have died from COVID-19, including 1,929 in St. Louis County and 480 in the city.