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With mask mandate expiring, St. Louis aldermen pass resolution encouraging masks

Server and bartender Mencia Haymon wipes counters down with disinfectant at Flannery's Pub in downtown St. Louis. Flannery's has spaced tables far apart and servers and other workers wear masks to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
File Photo / Sarah Fentem
St. Louis Public Radio
Server and bartender Mencia Haymon wears a mask as she wipes tables at Flannery's Pub in downtown St. Louis in 2020. The city's mask mandate expires late Sunday, and the Board of Aldermen will not put a new one in place.

The St. Louis mandate that requires people to wear masks in public indoor spaces is scheduled to expire late Sunday.

The Board of Aldermen decided Friday not to renew the rule. Instead, the board adopted a resolution that recommends people wear masks in crowded spaces.

The St. Louis health director did not recommend that the city extend the mask mandate, citing new guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis said the city needs to send a clear message that residents still need to protect themselves from the coronavirus.

“I understand that transitions are challenging, especially in a pandemic where they are often sudden,” Hlatshwayo Davis said. “The priority must still be a community harm reduction approach because we are still not out of the woods.”

The city health department is ready to recommend another mask order if the number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations again increases, she said.

The Board of Aldermen’s decision comes after the CDC announced people in places with low numbers of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations can go without masks. CDC officials don’t recommend a mask order for St. Louis based on those new metrics.

People in St. Louis should decide whether they need to wear a face covering based on their level of risk, local officials said.

“Yes, you can hear what we say, but you should also think about you, your family, your business and your community,” said Marlene Davis, D-19th Ward.

Some city residents expressed both happiness and trepidation about the change.

“We’ve always been under this working context that you wear masks, you get your vaccine, your booster,” said Ajay Iyer, a tech worker in St Louis. “And the hope is that you can eventually come back to a sense of normality.”

Iyer said he would still worry about the pandemic.

“Partly it’s fear and paranoia, fear it’s going to get bad again,” he said. “The other part of me has been looking forward to this day.”

Some residents with chronic diseases and young children not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine said they wish officials would keep the mask order in place until everyone can get the shot.

“I’m very aware our case rates are dropping and they’re at significant lows,” said Maggie Pazek-Kanan, a public health researcher whose son turns 3 soon. “However, being a parent of a child who’s too young to be vaccinated, it makes me a little uneasy. Especially when we’re getting to a point to where my son is more comfortable wearing a mask in public.”

It’s hard to persuade a toddler to mask up when no one else is wearing one, she said.

Pazek-Kanan also worries it will be difficult for local officials to put a mandate in place again if cases rise again.

St. Louis County officials last week rescinded the county’s public mask requirement. Like city officials, they now recommend but do not require that people wear face coverings.

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