Renewed Mask Orders Begin Now In St. Louis, St. Louis County
People in St. Louis and St. Louis County are now required to wear masks in all indoor public spaces to protect against the coronavirus, as a new joint health order goes into effect.
The order applies to everyone 5 and older. It carves out exemptions for those with disabilities and anyone who is eating or drinking in restaurants and bars. People who are alone inside a private office or separate interior space don’t have to wear a face covering. Unlike earlier orders, it does not include exceptions for people who have received the COVID-19 vaccine.
Page and Jones, both Democrats, are implementing mask requirements as cases in the St. Louis region rise and the delta variant of the coronavirus has become dominant across Missouri.
“Even if you aren’t concerned for yourself, think about the people in your life and in our region who need to be protected from this virus,” St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones said. “We came together once to protect each other, and I am confident we can do so again.”
Vaccination rates in the region are too low to keep the virus from spreading, particularly in neighborhoods with a high percentage of Black residents, who make up a majority of new cases in the region, Jones said.
County officials want to keep the mandate in place until case numbers decrease or vaccination rates go up, County Executive Sam Page said.
On June 1, the county recorded 40 new coronavirus cases in St. Louis County, he said. Nearly two months later, on Saturday, the county tallied 218 new coronavirus cases.
Page acknowledged that for vaccinated people, the new rules may “feel like punishment for doing the right thing.”
But “these numbers are too alarming to ignore,” Page said. “Masks have become a symbol of a political divide in our country, but they’re not a bridge too far, as some might say. Rather, they put the virus in the slow lane and give us time to get more people vaccinated.”
Adjusting to the return of mask rules
Some people in the region took the renewed mask mandate in stride.
Maurice Warner, of north St. Louis County, said he is relieved that officials have reinstated the mandate. Even without the it, Warner has continued to wear a mask in public spaces.
“I prefer to wear it,” he said. “That’s my preference because you still have the pandemic going on. Since the delta variant is pretty bad and easy to spread, I think it’s best for everyone.”
Meaghan Moeller, who owns the Clayton lifestyle store Lusso, said she’s prepared for another mask mandate but disheartened that one is necessary.
“I think people are just a little disappointed and frustrated. I just wish people would get vaccinated so we can move forward as a community,” said Moeller, who is worried about protecting her children, who cannot yet get vaccinated.
Moeller said her customers followed the previous mask mandate. But this time around, she worries it may be more difficult to enforce.
“People have so gladly gone mask-free. It could be a little bit of a struggle,” Moeller said.
Julia Richardson, of University City, said she’s more than willing to wear a mask when she works out at Wellbridge Athletic Club in downtown Clayton — even if it’s slightly uncomfortable.
“You would wear a hat out in the sun, you would wear shoes to protect your feet,” Richardson said. “Why not wear a mask to protect yourself from a pathogen in the air?”
She hopes people follow the mask mandate to speed up the community’s recovery.
“Hopefully we can gain some normalcy here, and we won’t have to be so afraid of coming out and socializing in the gym,” Richardson said.
St. Louis and St. Louis County officials are among the first in the nation to impose a renewed masking requirement as case numbers increase again.
The state is at the epicenter of the latest spike in cases. Missouri, Arkansas, Florida and Louisiana have the highest rates of new cases in the country.
In the spring, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidance saying vaccinated people could resume most activities mask-free.
However, some federal health officials have come out in favor of a return to masking. A former U.S. surgeon general last week told NPR reporters that vaccinations and masking were both vital to keeping the delta variant from spreading more and encouraged the CDC to revise its guidance.
Local mandates draw objections from local, state leaders
Other state and local politicians pointed out that city and county officials put the new rule in place with no feedback from the city’s Board of Aldermen or members of the County Council.
A statewide law that went into effect in June limits the ability of local executives to put such restrictions in place, said County Council member Tim Fitch, a Republican.
“The conversation we’ll have tomorrow night is ‘Does the county executive have the authority to issue these mandates?' The answer is legally and clearly that he does not,” Fitch said, referring to the council’s meeting Tuesday. “Come to us and ask for our support and let us decide.”
Renewing mask mandates when the vaccine is available “erodes public trust,” Republican Gov. Mike Parson wrote on Twitter.
“These policies that don’t consider vaccination status, reduce the incentive of getting the vaccine and undermine its integrity,” Parson wrote. “The vaccine is how we rid ourselves of COVID-19, not mask mandates that ignore common sense.”
Fitch and other County Council members have asked Page and Dr. Faisal Khan, the county's health director, to appear at Tuesday’s meeting to discuss the new rule.
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