Missouri has been one of the hardest-hit states so far in these early days of a delta-fueled COVID-19 surge. Cases increased nearly 500 percent since the start of July, while vaccinations stalled. Right now, with just 41 percent of the state fully vaccinated, 112 of the state’s 114 counties have high or substantial levels of coronavirus spread. Hospitalizations are up statewide, and some facilities have already run out of ventilators and seen intensive care units hit maximum capacity. Deaths are also increasing, with more than 300 people losing their lives since July 1. And the proportion of COVID-19 tests coming back positive is still rising, suggesting that things will likely only get worse in the weeks to come.
By nearly every metric, this entirely preventable surge is tragic. Yet, it hasn’t stopped the Show Me State’s Republican attorney general, Eric Schmitt, from waging war on local health restrictions aimed at trying to curb transmission. On Monday, Schmitt filed a lawsuit to stop St. Louis County and St. Louis City from enforcing mask mandates for fully vaccinated people and children, which took effect that day.
The timing of the lawsuit is awkward. It partly rests on now-outdated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that fully vaccinated people didn’t need to wear masks in most indoor settings. “The Mask Mandates are arbitrary and capricious because they require vaccinated individuals to wear masks, despite the CDC guidance that this is not necessary,” the lawsuit claims. The rest of the lawsuit didn’t argue that masks were ineffective at curbing transmission but rather claimed that they were unnecessary for children—despite that they are largely ineligible for vaccinations—and that requiring them is “unconstitutional.” Otherwise, the lawsuit nitpicked language of the mandates, such as alleging that they didn’t define the word “dwelling.”
The CDC reversed its mask policy Tuesday, citing evidence that even fully vaccinated people are catching and spreading the hypertransmissible delta coronavirus variant—though at much lower frequencies than unvaccinated people. The agency now recommends universal masking in K-12 schools and that fully vaccinated people mask in indoor public settings when local transmission is high or substantial. Both the city and county of St. Louis have high levels of COVID-19 transmission, as defined by the CDC.
Lies and freedoms
Still, Schmitt is not backing down. Though his office did not immediately respond to a request from Ars, Schmitt took to Twitter and Fox News to blast the CDC’s update.
“People are tired of being lied to by elites & the ruling class,” Attorney General Schmitt, who is also running for US Senate, tweeted on Tuesday evening. “We were told—get vaccinated and you don’t have to wear a mask. Now the vaccinated are forced to wear masks in St. Louis. Kids forced to wear masks too. The lies go on and on.”
On Wednesday, Kansas City’s Democratic Mayor Quinton Lucas announced that he, too, would reinstate an indoor mask mandate in the city for all persons aged five and older, regardless of vaccination status. And Schmitt quickly said that he would sue to stop that mandate as well.
“To the great people of Kansas City: I will be filing a lawsuit to protect your freedoms,” Schmitt tweeted Wednesday. “This mask mandate is about politics & control, not science. You are not subjects but citizens of what has been the freest country in the world & I will always fight for you.”
It’s unclear how the lawsuits will pan out, but Mayor Lucas has already noted that he intends to put up a fight of his own. A press release from his office stated:
In light of recent litigation between the State of Missouri and the City and County of St. Louis, Mayor Lucas will also introduce a resolution in the weeks ahead for City Council support of emergency actions. Mayor Lucas stands with Mayor Tishaura Jones and County Executive Sam Page in protecting Missourians from the spread of COVID-19.
In St. Louis, County Executive Page also stood behind the mask mandate. The courts will decide its fate, he said, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, but “until then, the law stands.” Page argued that masks are necessary to help lower transmission while more people get vaccinated. “These cases, and this curve is shooting straight up,” he said. “And if we don’t make some decisions fast, we’re going to be in a bad spot.”