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St. Louis County mask mandate battle sent back to state court

The legal battle over St. Louis County’s mask mandate is heading to state court after a federal judge remanded Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s lawsuit.  

The 37-page lawsuit filed in the 21st Judicial Circuit Court in St. Louis County 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 in June, required a report showing the need for such an order, but one was not provided. 

A federal judge declined St. Louis County Executive Sam Page’s effort to have the case heard in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri Sunday, stating the question over the newly-enacted law was a matter for the state courts to decide. 

“With this case involving the state itself suing state actors over an interpretation of a newly-enacted state law that the state adopted precisely to deal with local government health mandates regarding COVID-19, the fate of the mask mandates under Missouri law belongs in the Missouri state courts,” Judge Stephen Clark said. 

Schmitt called Page’s move an “11th-hour attempt to delay our lawsuit” and said his team was seeking another hearing on a temporary restraining order.  

Schmitt filed the lawsuit last week challenging the constitutionality of the reinstated mandate requiring masks, including among fully vaccinated people, in the city and county of St. Louis. The county council voted to reject the mandate Tuesday, but Page has maintained the order is still in effect. 

The attorney general also filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction to immediately halt the county’s mandate. 

The mandates require masks in all indoor public places for individuals who are at least 5 years old. Face coverings while outdoors will be encouraged, the city and county said in a joint press release. 

“While vaccination is still the best way to prevent severe illness and hospitalization from COVID-19, wearing masks will help stop the spread to others until more people throughout St. Louis are fully vaccinated,” Nick Dunne, a spokesperson for the city of St. Louis, said. 

Kansas City quickly followed: A similar mandate went into effect Monday, and another challenge is expected from Schmitt. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevent (CDC) issued new guidance last week recommending fully vaccinated people wear face coverings in areas of substantial or high-risk transmission.

St. Louis County has reported 1,526 cases in the past seven days and one death. More than 45 percent of the county’s population is fully vaccinated, with 52 percent receiving at least an initial dose. The state reported 12,341 positive cases since last Monday and 31 deaths, with more than 51 percent of the state’s adults fully inoculated and 59 percent initiating vaccination so far. 

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