(The Center Square) – St. Louis County ended its COVID-19 mask mandate this week, leaving the City of St. Louis as the only large city in Missouri with a mask requirement.
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page announced the lifting of the requirement last week and put a public health advisory in place. Page said giving advance notice of the change allowed schools to consult their public health guidelines and businesses to review protocols necessary to protect their customers and workers.
The St. Louis Board of Aldermen voted on Feb. 13 to extend its indoor mask mandate until March 5. Previously, both the city and county coordinated public announcements regarding mask requirements.
“The end of the Omicron surge is not the end of the pandemic,” Page said during a briefing with media. “But it is the end, hopefully, for a very long time of hospitals being pushed to capacities. Medical centers are breathing a sigh of relief while keeping a wary eye on the virus, which continues to hospitalize people every day. So I would not call this getting back to normal. That can never happen when this pandemic is responsible for the lives of nearly 950,000 Americans.”
Kansas City’s mask requirement expired on Feb. 17. It ended with little fanfare as the city had a record snowfall of 6.4 inches that day.
“We reimposed Kansas City’s K-12 mask mandate as Omicron swept through our community following the holiday season—protecting our students, teachers and families during this spike—with the goal of getting Kansas City through a difficult moment,” Mayor Quinton Lucas posted on social media. “I am glad to see cases decline. With cases, hospitalizations, and deaths on a continued decline, it is time for government to focus on COVID-19 mitigation efforts such as regular testing and ensuring all have access to vaccines.”
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed a lawsuit against St. Louis County after its council voted 4-3, with three Republicans voting against it, to approve a mask requirement on Jan. 5. The council also approved mask requirements on July 26 and Sept. 27, 2021. Schmitt, a candidate for the seat of retiring Republican U.S. Senator Roy Blunt, also filed suit against Kansas City last year for its mask requirement, along with many school districts throughout the state. Schmitt has dropped lawsuits after entities end mask requirements.
Page said recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control guided the new advisory. Data on the St. Louis County’s website show the average COVID-19 positivity rate was 7.2% last week, down from 38% on Jan. 6.
Page said it was difficult to predict if another surge would need to be addressed.
“It doesn’t appear like we’re headed in that direction,” Page said. “I believe the variables that drive a mask mandate are infection rate and hospitalizations. We’re not headed in a direction where we would be concerned about that right now. The vaccination rate, although it isn’t where we want it to be, is still a lot better than it was a year ago or even a few months ago. Who knows what the future brings next winter or with another variant. We’ll see, but I think we’re in a much better place as a community and in a much better place as a country in responding to the COVID pandemic.”