(The Center Square) – A St. Louis County judge on Tuesday issued a temporary restraining order, requested by the Missouri attorney general, stopping an indoor mask mandate issued last week by the St. Louis County public health department and promoted by the county executive.
Circuit Judge Ellen Ribaudo granted the temporary restraining order until another hearing set for Aug. 17.
The rising number of COVID-19 cases in July in St. Louis city and county led Mayor Tishaura Jones and County Executive Sam Page to announce an indoor mask mandate beginning July 26. However, the St. Louis County Council voted down the mandate on July 27, citing a new Missouri law requiring public health orders be approved by the legislative branch of municipal governments.
Page continued to state the indoor mask mandate was lawful after the vote by the council. During a court hearing on Tuesday, Missouri Solicitor General John Sauer argued the “unlawful mask mandate” will socially isolate people, harm children and negatively impact small businesses. Neal Perryman, a lawyer for St. Louis County, argued the mandate was legal and doesn’t restrict individuals or businesses.
“This court’s decision is purely one of the relevant law,” Ribaudo, appointed a circuit court judge in 2015 by former Democrat Gov. Jay Nixon, wrote in her three-page ruling. “The Court notes that the COVID-19 pandemic has been a political issue since it first emerged in this country and has continued to be a political flashpoint for many. In making this decision the court is not entering the politicization of wearing a mask, but determining if (Missouri law) gives the St. Louis County Council the power and authority to terminate the Face Covering Order.
“The court notes that although some will take this court’s ruling as a victory, there is no victory while the Covid-19 virus remains a significant threat to public health and there is no question it remains a significant threat to public health. There can be no victory until the residents of St. Louis County and the State of Missouri are no longer risking their health, well-being and lives at the hands of the COVID-19 virus.”
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, a Republican candidate for the seat of retiring U.S. Senator Roy Blunt, said the ruling was a significant victory.
“Today, the Missouri Attorney General’s Office delivered a huge win for the people of St. Louis County and obtained a temporary restraining order, halting the enforcement of the mask mandate,” Schmitt said in a statement. “This is an important, hard-fought victory, but our fight against unreasonable and unconstitutional government overreach continues.”
After the ruling, Page continued to emphasize the importance for all to continue wearing masks.
“We are disappointed in the judge’s decision as more and more mask requirements are put in place across the country to help slow this deadly virus,” Page posted on social media after the ruling. “The CDC recommends wearing masks in public places and we ask everyone to follow that guidance as we continue our vaccine efforts.”