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St. Louis County to drop mask mandate starting next week

Standing in front of boxes of protective face masks, St. Louis County Executive Dr. Sam Page, announces changes in restrictions on bars and businesses on Monday, July 27, 2020.
County Executive Sam Page, shown in 2020, announced an end to a requirement that St. Louis County residents wear face coverings in public indoor places.

St. Louis County officials are planning to put an end to the county’s mask mandate for public indoor spaces, County Executive Sam Page announced Wednesday.

The percentage of county residents testing positive for the virus and hospital admissions are decreasing, Page said. That indicates that for now at least, a widespread public mandate is no longer needed.

“With the mask mandate, the continued effort to get more people vaccinated, and the virus weakening, we’re in a much better place, a place where we are cautiously optimistic,” he said.

Page said some businesses and schools might still keep mask mandates in place, depending on the customers they serve. Schools with immunocompromised faculty or children too young to be vaccinated might also keep their requirements for face coverings, he said.

Page and St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones last July reinstated mask mandates in public spaces as coronavirus cases rose due to the contagious delta variant of the virus.

In January, St. Louis County board members voted to approve the mandate after weeks of infighting.

Dr. Faisal Kahn, St. Louis County health director, recommended ending the mandate, a spokesman for Page said. The County Council could reinstate one, but its members have not expressed interest in doing so.

A spike in cases and hospitalizations due to the omicron variant that began during the holidays has begun to subside, Page said.

“We’re optimistic we’ve seen the worst of this,” he said. “We’re optimistic that the cases are trending in the right direction.”

Representatives of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen say they’re waiting on similar guidance from city health officials. The city’s mandate is set to expire in early March.

The board’s health and human services committee is meeting Thursday and has asked Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, the St. Louis health director, to discuss the city’s next steps, Alderwoman Christine Ingrassia said. Throughout the pandemic, the city and county’s public health orders have mostly mirrored each other.

Republican politicians on the county’s board have criticized the mask mandate on the grounds that county officials don’t have the authority to pass such a rule. Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmittasked a Missouri judge to overturn the county’s mask mandate. Earlier this month, a judge in St. Louis County denied Schmitt’s request for a preliminary injunction that would remove the mask mandate and dismissed all but one count of the lawsuit against the county.

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @Petit_Smudge

Sarah Fentem is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.