Press "Enter" to skip to content

St. Louis County Council rejects ban on indoor dining

The St. Louis County Council rejected an order barring restaurants from allowing indoor dining as COVID-19 cases continue to climb in a vote Tuesday night.

The council voted to overturn the restriction on indoor dining put on restaurants by County Executive Sam Page and Acting Director of the Department of Public Health Dr. Emily Doucette related to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Tonight, as required by county charter and ordinance the Saint Louis County Council denied the safer at home order clearing the way for businesses across the region to [safely] open,” Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, a Republican who represented restaurants seeking to overturn the order, told The Missouri Times. 

But Page, in a press conference Wednesday morning, rejected the resolution, calling it a “symbolic vote” that “did not have the force of law.”

Page and Doucette jointly issued the Safer at Home order which went into effect on Nov. 17. It stated: “COVID-19 case numbers are rising rapidly in St. Louis County and throughout the St. Louis Metropolitan area. It is imperative that additional mitigation strategies be employed to control the rapid community transmission of the virus which is overwhelming the health care system in the St. Louis region.”

The ban on indoor dining was one of several mitigation efforts outlined in the order.

In its resolution, the council cited Ordinance 602.020(3) which says it “must approve any and all rules and regulations that tend to promote or preserve the public health that are recommended by the Director of the Department of Public Health before they may take effect.” 

The council also overturned sections of a Nov. 19 order placing restrictions on gyms, indoor and outdoor sporting events, and businesses. Going forward, Page and Doucette will have to get approval from the council on any and all orders related to public health.

On social media Wednesday morning, Councilman Tim Fitch said he hoped to work with Page on issues in the future.

“I’d rather work with him than have a court decide,” he said.

Four restaurants in St. Louis County had their permits suspended this week after the health department said they were in violation of the order. Bartolino’s South, Final Destination, OT’s Bar, and Satchmo’s Bar and Grill were found to be out of compliance after County Health Department employees were dispatched to businesses to enforce the order. The businesses received three warning letters for non-compliance before their permits were suspended.

At least two of these restaurants were plaintiffs in a lawsuit joined by the Missouri Restaurant Association against the county related to a separate order from earlier in the month that capped restaurant capacity at 25 percent. It is unclear how this resolution will affect that lawsuit, but more filings are expected later today.

“I saw this as a big victory for restaurants in St. Louis County who have been affected by the devastating dining room shutdown order,” Ben Brown, owner of Satchmo’s, told The Missouri Times, about the council’s ordinance. “The fact that it was approved by a bipartisan majority only supports our position that this was an arbitrary and illegal order that did not follow the proper protocol for enacting such an order.”

Also on Tuesday, Sen. Andrew Koenig, a Republican, held a press conference with other lawmakers outside of Satchmo’s to announce he pre-filed a bill meant to limit the ability of local officials to mandate and enforce county-wide shutdowns Tuesday. 

“I never imagined a situation where I’d have to flee to the city of St. Louis to be more free,” Koenig said from the Senate floor Wednesday.

COVID-19 will continue to play an outsized role in the upcoming legislative session. Earlier this week, Gov. Mike Parson reversed course on his call for a COVID-19 liability bill to be taken up during the ongoing extraordinary session. Lawmakers are expected to bring it up early in the upcoming regular session, however.

“Great victory for rule of law, which citizens of all parties and political beliefs should applaud,” Sen. Bob Onder, a Republican representing SD 2, said about the resolution in a tweet Tuesday.

As of Wednesday morning, more than 3,300 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past seven days. During that same time period, 12 people have died.