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St. Louis County rescinds mask mandate


St. Louis County officially rescinded its controversial mask mandate Thursday in the wake of a court decision impeding its ability to enforce the order. 

The county enacted its indoor mask mandate in September amid rising COVID-19 case rates, encompassing all individuals over the age of 5 years old regardless of vaccination status. 

After Cole County Judge Daniel Green nullified officials’ ability to impose mask and quarantine policies under a health department regulation last month — and declared existing orders void — acting St. Louis County Health Director Dr. Faisal Khan recommended implementing a new mandate. 

The county council did not approve the suggestion, according to a notice from Khan Thursday. 

”Because of the Cole County order and the council’s decision not to approve a new face covering order, the Department of Public Health director this morning rescinded the prior face covering order,” County Executive Sam Page said on social media. “The health department continues to recommend masks in indoor settings. COVID cases are rising.”

Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt instructed local public health agencies and school districts to halt mask and quarantine mandates Tuesday based on Green’s decision. A critic of Page’s and Khan’s restrictions during the pandemic, Schmitt said the revocation of the mandate was a victory for the county’s citizens. 

“This is a huge win for the citizens of St. Louis County and the people of Missouri,” Schmitt said in a statement. “Although we have consistently held that St. Louis County’s mask mandates were illegally imposed in the first place, this is the right move and is consistent with the recent judgment from the Cole County Circuit Court. We expect more local public health authorities and school districts to follow suit in the coming days and weeks.” 

Schmitt sued the county over its mask mandate shortly after it was enacted. Arguments in the case were held Thursday morning. 

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. 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, such as mask mandates in schools or business closures, 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. 

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. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is monitoring the situation, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.

St. Louis County reported 2,069 COVID-19 cases and four deaths in the past seven days. More than 57 percent of the counties’ eligible residents have completed vaccination, and 65 percent have received at least an initial dose.