Missouri health officials are conducting contact tracing after someone who attended a St. Louis County Council meeting reversing a countywide mask mandate on Tuesday tested positive for COVID-19. The meeting attracted hundreds of attendees, many of whom were maskless and protesting the mandate that went into effect a day earlier in the county, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. “We are still in a pandemic caused by a virus that continues to spread rapidly in our communities, causing severe health complications including death,” Dr. Fredrick Echols, acting director of health for the city of St. Louis, said in a city news release. “It is very important that residents practice the health and safety mitigation measures of wearing a face covering, social distancing themselves from those who do not live in their households and routinely wash their hands with soap and water or using hand sanitizer when soap and water is not available.
“The DOH is continuing its contact tracing investigation into this case and encourages those who have not received a COVID-19 vaccine to get vaccinated. It is the best tool we have to prevent severe COVID-19 complications, including death.”
The City of St. Louis Department of Health announced in the release issued Saturday night that officials are working to notify those in contact with the individual, “but out of an abundance of caution it is recommended that anyone who attended the council meeting quarantine for the next nine days and monitor their symptoms.”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch writer Austin Huguelet described an indoor council chamber that was packed with people to see the council end its mask mandate. “Most of them were unmasked, and some declared their opposition to getting the vaccine on signs and in public testimony,” Huguelet wrote. “Many spoke to the council at a public podium. The crowd cheered and jeered throughout the meeting.”
Dr. Faisal Khan, acting director of the St. Louis County Department of Public Health, said in a letter to council Chairwoman Rita Days while presenting his analysis of COVID-19 during the meeting politicians that Mark McCloskey and Paul Berry berated and tried to distract him. “After my presentation was completed, I tried to leave the chamber but was confronted by several people who were in the aisle,” Khan wrote. “On more than one occassion, I was shoulder-bumped and pushed. As I approached the exit and immediately outside the chambers, I became surrounded by the crowd in close quarters, where members of the crowd yelled at me, calling me a ‘fat brown c–t’ and a ‘brown bastard.’”
Khan said the slurs haven’t hampered his willingness to brief the council on public health issues. “I simply ask that you take appropriate steps to investigate these matters, prevent similar events from happening in the future, and ensure that a safe and orderly environment be created for any future testimony me or my staff are asked to provide to the Council,” Khan wrote.
The council ultimately voted 5-2 to overturn the mask mandate, with Councilman Ernie Trakas—who made no effort to defend Khan—preaching about liberty. Democrats Rita Days and Shalonda Webb voted with Republicans Tim Finch, Trakas, and Mark Harder to reverse the mandate issued by the St. Louis County Department of Public Health, while Democrats Lisa Clancy and Kelli Dunaway voted to keep the mandate, according to St. Louis Public Radio. “If (County Executive) Sam Page wants health mandates, this council stands ready to hear his arguments and act on his requests,” Fitch said. “This is the legal and proper way to do this.”
Clancy tweeted on Saturday that a “public health order was flagrantly violated … Even those who didn’t like it and voted to rescind it know it existed or they wouldn’t have had anything to rescind! Ironic and unfortunate example of why mask mandate needed in first place,” Clancy added in the tweet. Clancy said in another tweet that she plans to introduce legislation imposing a new mask mandate on Tuesday. “I hope for Councilman Fitch’s support for the bill I’ll intro and (hopefully) pass Tuesday,” she said in the tweet.
Clancy is also pushing for meetings to be held virtually and for “basic health protocols” to be enacted. “I’m very concerned for all the unmasked attendees at the meeting,” the councilwoman tweeted.
In a state that lags behind the federal average for number of residents receiving at least one vaccination shot, COVID-19 hospitalizations reached 413 on Friday. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the figure represents a level of hospitalizations the St. Louis Pandemic Task Force hasn’t reported since before February when the vaccine wasn’t widely accessible. Only 49% of Missouri residents have had at least one dose of the vaccine compared to 57% nationally, yet Republican Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who’s also running for the U.S. Senate, has launched a lawsuit to invalidate mask mandates, the newspaper reported.
“Today, my office filed suit against St. Louis City and County for reimposing their mask mandate on the citizens of St. Louis,” Schmitt said in a news release last Monday. “This continued government overreach is unacceptable and unconstitutional, especially in the face of a widely available vaccine. There is absolutely no scientific reason to continue to force children to wear a mask in school.
“Back in May, I filed suit against St. Louis County for continuing to impose such unlawful restrictions, and just three days later, those restrictions were lifted. I will continue to fight this seemingly unending control and intrusion on peoples’ lives – we will not back down.”
Schmitt said in the lawsuit: “St. Louis County and St. Louis City seek expanded government power that has failed to protect Missouri citizens living within their boundaries in the past and is not based on sound facts and data.” He called the St. Louis County mask mandate requiring those ages 5 years old and over to wear face coverings indoors and in enclosed spaces “unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious, unconstitutional, and unlawful.”
Schmitt has also filed a motion for temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to more immediately “halt the mandate.”