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Livingston, Cooper counties appeal order stymying certain local public health orders

  

Cooper and Livingston counties’ health centers appealed a judge’s order blocking local health agencies’ ability to impose certain mandates that could impact businesses, individuals, schools, and other entities. 

Cole County Judge Daniel Green last month said regulations from Missouri’s health department allowing the state health director and directors of local health agencies to use “personal discretion” to implement mandates or restrictions were unconstitutional. The regulations allowed unelected health directors to close schools or places of public assembly in the interest of protecting public health during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Green declared those orders, reliant on the DHSS regulations, void. Earlier this month, he denied all motions to intervene in the case, including from St. Louis and Jackson counties as well as Cooper and Livingston counties’ health agencies. 

An attorney for the Livingston County Health Center and the administrator of the Cooper County Public Health Center filed an appeal Thursday. The appeal covers both the judge’s original order as well as the denial of the motion to intervene. 

“Both the Board and the Administrator believe there are several aspects of the Judgment that directly and negatively affect their ability to protect and safeguard the public health of the residents in their respective counties,” attorney Stephen Jeffrey said in an email. “They also believe the denial of their requests to intervene in this case was wrongfully decided because the interests of rural health centers throughout Missouri are not adequately represented by any of the current parties to the lawsuit.” 

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The lawsuit against DHSS was brought by Shannon Robinson, Satchmo’s Bar and Grill, and Church of the Word who argued the regulations allowed local health agencies “to exercise unbridled and unfettered personal authority to in effect, legislate.” 

In their own response to the motions to intervene, the plaintiffs argued the counties waited “until the eleventh hour” to intervene despite the case being pending for nearly one year. 

“The putative intervenors’ post-judgment criticisms of this Court’s judgment are just sour grapes, which give them no right to intervene,” the response said. 

Since the November order, Schmitt — who has vociferously opposed mask, vaccine, and other mandates during the pandemic at the state and federal level — also sent more than four dozen cease and desist letters to school districts telling them to end their mandates. 

Schmitt had asked parents for their help in identifying schools that still imposed mandates relying on local public health department orders. 

“We have informed local public health authorities and school districts multiple times about the ruling, including 52 cease and desist letters to non-compliant school districts, ordering them to cease enforcement of mask mandates and quarantine orders,” Schmitt previously said. “Since those letters were sent out, a number of school districts have ceased or plan to cease mask mandates and quarantine orders. Now that the ruling is final, non-compliant school districts and local public health authorities should rescind public health orders covered under the ruling or face litigation from the Attorney General’s Office. We plan to begin enforcement action on non-compliant entities as soon as January.”

As Green noted in his November judgment, other states have had similar health mandates thrown out in court. 

A Pennsylvania court recently said the acting health secretary did not have the authority to implement a statewide mask mandate.

And last year, Wisconsin’s state Supreme Court struck down a stay-at-home order because it said the governor’s administration did not have the authority to implement it. 

More than 21,800 new cases of COVID-19 have been identified in Missouri over the past week along with 29 confirmed deaths. 

In Cooper County, 29 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed over the past week with no deaths reported. About 41 percent of the county is fully vaccinated. Livingston County has seen 39 confirmed cases with zero deaths over the same time period. There, 43.3 percent of residents are fully vaccinated, according to data from the state’s health department. 

The new omicron variant has caused concern in the U.S., particularly among those who have not been vaccinated. About 57 percent of Missouri’s eligible population are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.