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Health, Science, Environment

St. Louis County Tightens Mask Rules For Businesses, Children

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page removes his mask before talking with reporters on May, 8, 2020.
Bill Greenblatt
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page announced a mask mandate for the county in early July. A new, amended order tightens those rules.

The St. Louis County health department on Friday toughened its order requiring face masks, in an effort to keep the coronavirus from spreading.

Starting Monday, businesses won’t be able to serve people who aren't wearing masks, and children over age 5 will have to wear them in school. People will also need to wear masks at indoor and outdoor businesses.

Health officials cited an increasing number of coronavirus cases and the growing risk of transmission among schoolchildren.

“As face-to-face interactions increase, and as scientific evidence indicates that COVID-19 is spread by asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic individuals, it is critical that all individuals wear face coverings in public settings, including children in school settings,” health officials said in Friday’s order.

An earlier order authorized but did not require businesses to refuse service to those not wearing a face covering. The order released Friday requires businesses to refuse service to people without a mask.

“Putting that in an order allows us to enforce it more strongly and allows us to support the business with communication with their clientele about what is necessary to decrease the risk of spread,” said Dr. Emily Doucette, acting co-director of the St. Louis County Department of Public Health.

St. Louis County issued mask requirements for those in most public spaces in early July after stay-at-home orders were lifted and coronavirus cases and hospitalizations began to rise.

In the past week, the St. Louis region has averaged about 622 new cases per day, nearly 11% more than the week before.

In recent weeks, officials in St. Louis and St. Louis County have further restricted businesses as cases and the rate of positive test results have increased. Bars and restaurants that serve alcohol are required to close early, and health departments have limited gathering sizes at public venues.

Masks keep spit droplets that carry infection from traveling through the air and infecting others, decreasing virus transmission. Emerging evidence suggests wearing a mask could affect how sick someone becomes if they do become infected by decreasing the amount of virus in their body.

The county has made exceptions for select activities. People do not need to wear a mask at a restaurant while eating or drinking if they are maintaining distance from other customers. People are not required to wear one while exercising or exerting themselves or swimming at a public pool, and kids do not need to wear a mask during music or gym classes, provided they are keeping their distance from others.

The change in mask-wearing policies for children is based on new understanding about how the coronavirus affects the very young. Early on, doctors believed kids were largely immune from the coronavirus, Doucette said. But more widespread testing has shown that even if kids don’t feel sick, they can still catch the virus and spread it to others.

“Probably young people have been getting the disease at a much higher frequency than we previously understood, we're starting to see those trends,” she said. “What we know from contact tracing is that while older people are much more likely to have severe symptoms, younger people are more likely to have a lot of contacts.”

The ages of people who are testing positive for the coronavirus keep dropping, she said. Health departments are beginning to see many cases emerging in those ages 10 to 19, potentially an effect of testing younger people as they return to school, Doucette said.

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @petit_smudge

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