Saturday, February 4, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Missouri AG files second lawsuit challenging St. Louis-area mask mandate

The Republican attorney general claims city and county leaders provided no scientific data to back up the renewed mask order, which went into effect on Monday.

CLAYTON, Mo. (CN) — For the second time in three months, Missouri's attorney general has filed a lawsuit challenging a St. Louis-area mask mandate aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19.

On Monday, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page and St. Louis City Mayor Tishaura Jones – both Democrats – enacted a second mask mandate as virus numbers continue to climb in the state, making the region one of the first in the country to bring back masks.

The move prompted Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt to file a lawsuit Monday evening challenging the mandate. The suit’s claims echo those of the first complaint filed by Schmitt, who is also a U.S. Senate candidate, against St. Louis County in May.

“This continued government overreach is unacceptable and unconstitutional, especially in the face of a widely available vaccine,” Schmitt said in a statement. “There is absolutely no scientific reason to continue to force children to wear a mask in school.”

Spokespersons for Page and Jones called the lawsuit politically motivated.

“This is nothing more than bombast in hopes of getting a headline,” Doug Moore, Page’s chief communications officer, said in a statement. “This political stunt puts lives at risk. And, like the others, it will not succeed.”

Nick Dunne, Jones’ public information officer, echoed the sentiment.

“Missourians have sadly become accustomed to the attorney general using their tax dollars to further his own political ambitions at the expense of the public’s health and well-being,” Dunne said in a statement. "We look forward to this frivolous lawsuit failing like so many of his others."

Despite a widely available vaccine, Missouri has become a hotspot for the virus’ resurgence. The delta variant combined with a largely unvaccinated population in the state’s rural conservative southwest, which contains several highly transient summer vacation destinations, has created a deadly cocktail.

Schmitt’s lawsuit begins by stating, “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.”

Health officials paint a different picture.

Hospitals in southwest Missouri have been overrun with Covid-19 cases. Earlier on Monday, Cox Health President and CEO Steve Edwards tweeted of the dire situation in that region by stating that 15 more people died from Covid-19 over the weekend, bring the area's July death total to 72. All of those who died were unvaccinated.

Health officials worry about the outbreak spreading to the St. Louis and Kansas City areas. On Monday, St. Louis County reported an average of 218 new cases a day, up from an average of 40 on June 1. Black populations are being affected disproportionately.

“We are among the first counties to reinstate a mask requirement,” Page said in a statement announcing the mandate. “Let’s be among the first to eradicate this pandemic.”

Schmitt, in his lawsuit, claims making children wear masks in school is “unreasonable, arbitrary, and capricious” because children are at low risk of contracting Covid-19 and have low mortality rates and less severe symptoms when they do contract the virus. The suit points to research stating that masks can impede communication skills and emotional development in children.

The lawsuit also claims the orders are unconstitutionally vague and hamper religious freedoms.

“Despite having the most restrictive and unconstitutional orders in Missouri, St. Louis County and St. Louis city suffered some of the highest Covid-19 case rates and death rates in Missouri,” the complaint states.

Schmitt argues that the mask mandate undermines vaccination efforts.

Page disputed that in his statement announcing the mandate, claiming the requirement will help promote safety while vaccination efforts continue.

“Vaccines remain our focus,” Page said. “Until more people get vaccinated, we all must continue doing what we can to protect ourselves and others.”

The mask mandate is also complicated by a new state law signed by Republican Governor Mike Parson. Known as HB 271, it limits the time frame local health orders can be in effect without approval from elected officials.

St. Louis County Councilman Tim Fitch, a Republican, is leading a group of council members opposed to the mask mandate. He said the order could be overturned by a council vote as soon as Tuesday night because he claims Page did not provide data backing up the mandate as required by HB 271.

Schmitt's first lawsuit filed in May was dismissed without prejudice after Page dropped the first county mask mandate based on declining infection numbers.

Follow Joe Harris on Twitter

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.