KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As St. Louis County leaders battle over the enforcement of mask mandates, Attorney General Eric Schmitt has filed a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to prohibit such enforcement.
County Executive Sam Page announced the mandate last week, but County Council members on Tuesday voted, 5-2, to end the mandate. The following morning, Page and Dr. Faisal Khan, St. Louis County Department of Public Health director, said they would “ignore the County Council’s vote and continue to enforce their now-defunct mask mandate,” court documents state.
“Page and Khan’s refusal to withdraw their mask mandate is an act of stunning defiance of state law,” court documents state. “The Missouri General Assembly just passed a statute, effective June 15, 2021, for the very purpose of preventing such unilateral restrictions imposed by county health officers and county executives.”
House Bill 271, among other restrictions, limits the ability of local governments to issue public health orders that restrict businesses, churches and schools.
The bill also allows local governing bodies to override public health orders with a majority vote.
“Under the statute’s plain terms, the mask mandate is now defunct,” court documents state. “Defendants are bound by the plain and unambiguous terms of this state law, yet they wrongly insist otherwise.”
Court documents allege that the bill “strikes a balance between the need for public health orders to prevent the spread of communicable diseases, like COVID-19, and the need for transparency and accountability in restricting Missourians’ fundamental freedoms.”
An update posted Wednesday to the health department’s website stated that the department has “no comment on what comes next regarding the legal status of the public health order on masking,” but is firm in its desire for increased “mask compliance” in the county.
“St. Louis County is in a state of high community transmission with a low vaccination percentage in comparison to the national average,” DPH said in the statement. “More than half of county residents and all children under 12 are unvaccinated and therefore deserve to have some protections in being exposed to the public.”
Khan told council members on Tuesday that it would be up to businesses to enforce the mask mandate “by excluding patrons and customers who are not masked,” the documents state.