ST LOUIS — The head of St. Louis County's government on Monday urged its council to adopt a mask mandate amid a spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
The request from St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, a Democrat, comes after a judge last week issued an order that, at least temporarily, halted a mask requirement for indoor public places that Page had announced last month. Republican Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt then sued to stop it after the County Council voted to overturn it. A hearing on a preliminary injunction is scheduled for Aug. 17.
Page said during a news conference that Missouri's largest county with about 1 million residents is now averaging 311 new COVID-19 cases each day - six times the number from two months ago. Data from St. Louis regional hospitals shows that 493 patients are hospitalized with the virus, compared with 93 hospitalizations in June.
The County Council meets Tuesday and Page urged passage of a mask requirement, a move that would make the court case moot. Schmitt's lawsuit argued that Missouri law gives the council the authority to terminate the mask requirement.
Page said the council's vote in July "has brought confusion, anxiety and anger. Most importantly, the move could sicken more of our children who are not yet able to get the vaccine We are seeing younger people in our ICUs battling COVID-19."
Statewide, cases and hospitalizations continue to rise.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services on Monday reported 1,119 new cases, bringing the pandemic total to 587,979. The seven-day average reported Monday was 1,190 cases. The death toll remained at 9,828.
Information from the state shows a seven-day average of 2,136 people hospitalized with the virus, the highest number since January. Missouri hospital bed capacity is down to 17%, and capacity in intensive care units is at 16%.
Erik Frederick, chief administrative officer at Mercy Hospital Springfield, said COVID-19 hospitalizations there have dropped slightly since reaching a peak of 155 on July 23-24. As of Monday, the hospital had 106 patients with COVID-19 and an additional 22 who are no longer infectious but still recovering from having the virus.
He noted Springfield-area hospitals were the first in the state to record an influx of new cases from the delta variant and officials had anticipated a small drop after hitting the peak.
Health officials are expecting a continuing increase in cases across Missouri for the next few weeks, which will combine with normal summer traumas caused by people being out and participating in summer activities, he said.
"So when I say it's not a bad as it was, that's really relative," he said. "It's still bad. That 106 patients is a big number and it's still a big strain on our system."
Vaccination rates remain low. Information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that 58.7% of all Americans have initiated vaccination. But in Missouri, just 49.3% of residents have had at least one shot.