St. Louis County's top elected official insisted Wednesday that a mask mandate remained in place even though the county commission voted to overturn it. Across the state, meanwhile, Kansas City prepared to issue its own order in an effort to stem a rise in COVID-19 cases that is straining hospitals.
"This virus, these cases and this curve is shooting straight up and if we don't make some decisions fast we are going to be in a bad spot," St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said during a media briefing. "If we can follow the recommendations of our public health department and the CDC and all the other experts, we will continue to be in a better spot. But we are headed for some tough times."
He spoke after the St. Louis County Council voted 5-2 on Tuesday to end the county's mask mandate, saying Page did not consult with them before issuing it. Orders took effect Monday there and in the city of St. Louis, requiring everyone age 5 or older to wear masks in inside public spaces and on public transportation even if they are vaccinated.
The mandates prompted the state's Republican attorney general to immediately file a lawsuit in an effort to stop them. Page said that until the lawsuit was resolved, "masks will be required in all indoor public spaces."
Meanwhile, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas announced Tuesday that he would reinstate an indoor mask mandate, tweeting that the community "cannot ignore the rapid spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant in Missouri — outpacing much of the country."
The push to require masks comes as Missouri deals with a surge in COVID-19 cases that began in rural areas, where vaccination rates are low, and spread to cities.
Questions over the legality of local mask requirements stem from a law Republican Gov. Mike Parson signed last month that limits the duration of local public health restrictions and bars governments from requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination to use public facilities and transportation. Although the law doesn't specifically mention masks, it allows the governing body of any city or county to end a public health order issued for the purpose of preventing the spread of a contagious disease by a majority vote.
Page, a Democrat, said St. Louis hospitals were accepting an overflow of COVID-19 patients from hospitals elsewhere in the state and were at risk of being overrun. He blamed the pushback to requiring masks on politics.
"This is a national problem that went all the way up to the top with the last president. And we do have some folks in our country who work very hard to undermine public health efforts with a lot of very inflammatory rhetoric."