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CLAYTON, Mo. (AP) — An email in which a suburban St. Louis public health official urged staff to ignore the "lunatic fringe" as they work to combat the COVID-19 virus is sparking outrage from some elected officials.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Dr. Faisal Khan, the acting St. Louis County health director, also used Tuesday's email to encourage health workers to continue to take precautions ahead of an expected rise in cases following holiday gatherings.

"Please," he wrote, "ignore the lunatic fringe that exists in every society. They were there one hundred years ago and will likely be around 100 years in the future. They are irrelevant fools."

By Wednesday, Khan's email was circulated online by critics of public health measures, including some of the people who have appeared at County Council meetings in recent weeks to oppose a county requirement that people wear masks in public and on public transit. The mask order is currently under a legal challenge.

Councilman Tim Fitch, a Republican who has voted against mask requirements, forwarded the Khan email to news media Wednesday after a health department employee sent it to him. Other employees, he said, had called him to say it was "inappropriate." He told department staff that he was "stunned" by Khan's email. And Council Chair Rita Days said Khan's email was "irresponsible."

Neither Khan nor a spokesperson for the Department of Public Health responded to requests for comment by the Post-Dispatch.

The email controversy comes four months after Khan made an obscene gesture at a group of angry anti-mask mandate protesters after he appeared at a County Council meeting to speak about his latest public health order.

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