A judge on Thursday ruled that St. Louis County in Missouri cannot enforce its mask mandate for now.
Circuit Judge Ellen “Nellie” Ribaudo issued a preliminary injunction ordering the county to stop taking action to enforce the mask mandate, while the court considers the full case. She said that her decision was made based on the law.
“This court’s decision is purely one of the relevant laws,” Ribaudo said in her order (pdf). “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 flash point for many.”
A mask mandate was issued by St. Louis County Executive Sam Page and Health Director Faisal Khan on July 26. The county-wide mandate required masks in indoor public areas, as well as on public transportation, for all those aged 5 and above.
In response, Missouri’s attorney general, Eric Schmitt, filed a lawsuit against the mandate on the same day.
On July 27, the County Council cast a supermajority vote of 5-2 to rescind the mandate. However, Page at the time maintained that the mask mandate was still in effect.
Ribaudo then issued a temporary restraining order (pdf) on Aug. 3 against St. Louis County for having continued to enforce the mask mandate, despite the county council vote against it. The order prevented the mandate from being enforced, and was in effect until Aug. 19.
The preliminary injunction issued on Thursday overrides the temporary restraining order and allows the mandate to continue to be on hold while the court case continues.
Like in her previous decision, Ribaudo on Thursday found that Schmitt’s lawsuit was likely to succeed. She added that the parties should work together to resolve the matter.
“The court implored for the parties to work together for the benefit of the public to find common ground as this virus continues to be a very real and significant danger to the state of Missouri, St. Louis County, and the world,” she wrote.
“Both sides agree that the increase in COVID 19 cases is significant and of great concern, they agree that people should take appropriate precautions to stop the spread of the virus. Despite agreeing on these issues they are unable to resolve their dispute,” she added.
In a response to the ruling, Page wrote on Twitter, “Public health experts tell us masks save lives. I am confident the people of @STLCounty will continue wearing masks to protect themselves & their community from COVID-19.”
Schmitt praised the judge’s decision.
“The people prevailed yet again against County Executive Page and his health department for attempting to impose their will illegally on the people of St. Louis County,” he said in a statement. “I will not stop in my fight against government overreach.”