Officials said Friday that the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County are imposing an indoor mask mandate for anyone over the age of 5 regardless of vaccination status, citing a rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations and the spread of the Delta variant.
The new rule, which goes into effect on July 26, requires mask-wearing in indoor public places and on public transportation, according to a statement by the office of the mayor of St. Louis. The mandate represents a stricter posture than the mask-wearing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which says that fully vaccinated people need not wear facial coverings indoors, though the agency defers to local rules in the matter.
“We need everyone, vaccinated or not, to wear masks in crowded indoor settings,” Dr. Faisal Khan, acting director of the St. Louis County Department of Public Health, said in a statement. “We must protect our most vulnerable residents as well as children under 12, who are not yet eligible for vaccinations.”
Exceptions to the mask-wearing mandate include people seated in restaurants or bars, or individuals with disabilities preventing them from putting on or taking off facial coverings. Mask wearing outdoors, while not required, will be “strongly encouraged,” the mayor’s office said.
“We’ve lost more than 500 St. Louisans to COVID-19, and if our region doesn’t work together to protect one another, we could see spikes that overwhelm our hospital and public health systems,” said Dr. Fredrick Echols, acting director of health for the City of St. Louis, in a statement.
Khan said in the St. Louis mask mandate announcement that vaccines are the “best way to stop the fast-spreading Delta variant of COVID-19,” a strain of the virus that the CDC considers to be more transmissible and potentially more resistant to vaccines.
Public health officials have been raising the alarm over the Delta variant, with Dr. Rochelle Walensky, head of the CDC, telling a Senate hearing on July 20 that Delta now accounts for around 83 percent of all new sequenced cases in the country.
Walensky said at a White House briefing Thursday that, even in the absence of local mask-wearing requirements, “you have the opportunity to make the personal choice to add extra layers of protection if you so choose.”
Mask wearing amid the COVID-19 pandemic has become a hot button issue, with some questioning the efficacy of facial coverings and others opposing mandates on grounds of personal liberty. Advocates, on the other hand, have broadly taken a better-safe-than-sorry approach in the face of underpowered efficacy studies, while generally viewing mandates as a minor inconvenience that helps protect people who are prone to serious complications if they get infected.
There are dozens of circumstantial studies suggesting that masks work to stem the spread of the CCP virus although there has been just one randomized-control trial during the pandemic, carried out in Denmark. The researchers found that wearing a “surgical mask when outside the home among others did not reduce, at conventional levels of statistical significance, incident SARS-CoV-2 infection compared with no mask recommendation.”