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Laclede County Health Department ceases all coronavirus-related work following court decision

  

As Missouri communities reconsider their response to the pandemic following a recent court decision, Laclede County‘s health department announced Thursday it would halt its COVID-19-related work altogether. 

The department posted a notice of the change online Thursday, announcing it would stop case investigations, contact tracing, public announcements of case rates and deaths, and quarantine orders. 

Attorney General Eric Schmitt instructed local public health agencies to halt mask and quarantine mandates Tuesday based on a Cole County judge’s decision nullifying state and local officials’ ability to impose such policies and declaring existing mandates void last month. 

“While this is a huge concern for our agency, we have no options but to follow the orders of the Missouri attorney general at this time. We are awaiting additional direction from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS), but have no timeline or expectations that this ruling will be changed,” the notice read. “While our agency remains determined to protect the health of our county residents, it should be understood that this ruling greatly affects how we will be able to proceed with ALL highly communicable diseases in the future.”

The announcement came on the same day St. Louis County officially rescinded its mask mandate. 

Schmitt also directed school districts to halt mask and quarantine orders this week, launching an email hotline allowing parents to “report” districts that continued with such mandates. 

“Public health authorities and school districts have gone unchecked, issuing illegal and unconstitutional orders in their quest to aggregate, maintain, and exert their new-found power. My office will enforce the court’s order across the state,” Schmitt said of the letters. 

Cole County Judge Daniel Green said the Department of Health and Senior Services’ regulations allowing the state health director and local health agencies to implement “control measures” were unconstitutional last month. The regulations allowed health directors to close schools or places of public assembly in the interest of protecting public health during the pandemic, but Green deemed those existing orders invalid in his decision. 

The judgment said health orders during the pandemic have varied by county and impacted individuals differently based on where they reside. Some mandates went into effect without public comment, Green said. 

The chorus of Missouri Republicans concerned about the impact of local public health orders resulted in a new state law this year that set time restrictions on how long certain orders can remain in place without approval by governing bodies. 

Laclede County reported 78 positive cases in the past seven days and zero deaths. More than 34 percent of the county’s eligible population is fully vaccinated, and 38 percent have received an initial dose.