County Executive Sam Page, a Democrat, attempted to implement the mask mandate supposedly because of the rapid spread of the post-vaccine delta variant of the coronavirus.
The county mask mandate took effect on Monday, July 26. It required everyone to wear a mask in indoor public spaces, regardless of whether or not they have been vaccinated. (Related: St. Louis orders all vaccinated residents to return to mandatory masking while indoors, effectively admitting that vaccines don’t work to stop the spread of covid.)
The county council said Page violated Missouri law by attempting to pass the mandate without consulting the council.
Because of this, five members of the seven-member council voted in favor of ending the mask mandate and rebuking Page for violating the law.
“Too many American men and women have given the last full measure of devotion for us to be cavalier with the very liberty they fought and died to provide,” said Councilman Ernie Trakas, a Republican. “I will not abide any measures that seek to compromise or erode our liberty and freedom.”
Trakas said Page could have easily called a special council meeting to get their input. He argued that this would have cleared the legal barrier to passing the mask mandate.
Trakas and two other Republicans voted in favor of ending the order.
“If Sam Page wants health mandates, this council stands ready to hear his arguments and act on his requests,” said Republican Councilman Tim Fitch. “This is the legal and proper way to do this.”
“Why weren’t we brought into the loop, why didn’t we have a chance to have an input on this?” said Fitch. “I represent 142,000 people, the vast majority do not want masks. The vast majority. I represent them, and I should be able to have a voice for them.”
Trakas, Fitch and the other Republican councilman were joined by two Democrats in voting to overturn the mandate, including council chairwoman Rita Heard Days. The two remaining Democrats in the council voted to uphold the mask mandate.
Page rejects vote, says matter to be resolved by the courts
Page dismissed the council’s attempt to strike down his mask mandate as “meaningless,” insisting that he has the authority to pass such a public health measure without the consent of the council.
The day after the vote, Page held a briefing where he insisted that the mask mandate is still in effect.
“I want to make it clear that a mask mandate remains in place in St. Louis County,” he said. “There is currently a lawsuit challenging the mandate, until that’s resolved, masks are required in all indoor public spaces.”
Page is referring to the lawsuit filed by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt to try and block the mandate.
Because of the confusion regarding whether Page can pass a mask mandate without the consent of the council, and whether the council can block Page’s mandate, this matter will most likely be decided in court.
“We do have a mask mandate that is in effect in St. Louis County,” said Page. “It’s before a judge, the attorney general has filed a lawsuit, and I hope that moves quickly to resolve this.”
Health laws passed by local governments in Missouri last year were upheld by state courts. But a recently passed bill limiting the power of local officials like Page to pass health restrictions may change this.
The law, House Bill 271, says county and city governments may only issue public health-related orders that lead to the restriction of access to businesses, churches, schools and “other places of assembly” for 30 days within a 180 day period when the Missouri governor has declared a state of emergency.
Such public health orders can be extended more than once provided that a majority of the local governing body votes in favor of it.
Page’s office has argued that the mask mandate does not restrict access to any of the aforementioned places. Therefore, this public health order does not nSt.eed to go through the county council.
But the county council argues that Page’s order is illegal because it does restrict access to businesses, it is an extension of a statewide mask mandate and it did not get voted on by the county council.