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St. Louis County Council passes mask mandate for people age 5 and older in public, indoor spaces

St. Louis County Council Chair Rita Heard Days, of the first district, Vice Chair Mark Harder, of the seventh district, and Councilwoman Shalonda Webb, of the fourth district, listen in to public commentary opposing a recent mask mandate on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021, during a regular council meeting at the St. Louis County Government building in Clayton, Mo.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis County Council Chair Rita Heard Days, left, Vice Chair Mark Harder and Councilwoman Shalonda Webb listen to public commentary in September opposing a mask mandate. The council voted 4-3 Tuesday to adopt a mask order.

The St. Louis County Council on Tuesday voted 4-3 in favor of an indoor mask order following a rise in coronavirus cases across the St. Louis region.

The vote follows months of contentious debate among county council members and heated public comment at meetings, mostly from mask opponents. The order, which takes effect at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, applies to people age 5 and older in indoor public buildings and on public transportation.

The county lifted its mask order last month after a Cole County judge restricted local health departments from issuing COVID-19 restrictions.

The vote split along party lines. Democrats Shalonda Webb, Kelli Dunaway, Rita Days and Lisa Clancy voted in favor of the order. Clancy introduced the mandate, citing a significant increase in positive coronavirus cases across the state.

“As the parent of a 6-month-old, it’s going to be more serious if COVID hits my house,” Clancy said. “It's a whole new ballgame having a vulnerable person in my own household, and I know that many of my constituents and neighbors are in that situation, and we’ve got to look out for each other.”

Council members debated whether four or five votes were needed to immediately pass the order. County Counselor Beth Orwick said only four votes were necessary to enact the mandate. 

Republicans Mark Harder, Ernie Trakas and Tim Fitch argued against the mandate, citing last year’s Cole County decision and warning that adopting the order could lead to legal troubles.

“St. Louis County doesn’t get to decide to ignore state law,” Fitch said.

Fitch argued that the order would also lead to more confusion among county residents and that the mandate will likely be overturned by Attorney General Eric Schmitt.

Schmitt filed a lawsuit to block a previous mask order. He tweeted shortly after the vote that he would file another lawsuit Wednesday.

“The COVID tyrants are at it again in St. Louis Co with another illegal masking order,” Schmitt said in his tweet. “They simply refuse to relinquish their power to the people who can make these decisions themselves.”

The St. Louis Metropolitan Task Force warned Tuesday that the region is seeing the highest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Doctors and hospital leaders say that number could double over the coming weeks. Missouri Gov. Mike Parson ended the state of emergency order last week.

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page called for the council to approve a mandate Monday. Page said Tuesday that the order will keep residents safe and keep schools open and the economy going.

“Masks aren’t restrictions, they’re the path towards more freedom to move about, stay healthy and look with optimism to the future,” Page said.

Like the previous order, the new mandate does not authorize criminal penalties or enforcement.

Chair and vice chair elected

The council voted 6-1 to reelect Days as council chair. Dunaway voted against her, citing her previous objections to a mask mandate.

The council also elected Webb to serve as vice chair. The position was previously held by Harder. 

Follow Chad on Twitter @iamcdavis

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.