St. Louis city, county health leaders urge masks amid COVID surge

Delly Bezoss

St. Louis and St. Louis County health officials reissued strong recommendations that residents wear face masks in indoor public spaces and in crowded places.

ST. LOUIS — A new surge in COVID-19 cases has prompted health leaders in St. Louis and St. Louis County to issue a joint plea to the public: “wear face masks in indoor public spaces.”

The county and city are now both in the CDC’s “High Level” category for virus transmission. The threshold is 200 cases per 100,000 people. Over recent seven-day periods, the city and county surpassed that mark.

  • City of St. Louis: 220.5 cases per 100,000 residents
  • St. Louis County: 272 cases per 100,000 residents

The increasing transmission rate prompted the two jurisdictions to send out a joint message Monday morning, encouraging the public to wear masks inside public spaces and even in crowded outdoor places where social distancing isn’t possible.

“Our action to strongly recommend wearing face masks is strictly data-driven,” said St. Louis Health Department Director Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis. “The data is clearly telling us we have to take action to reduce the cases. We all need to do our part. We know that masks minimize the transmission of the virus.”

The transmission rate wasn’t the only data point to increase – hospitals also are seeing an increase in patients. Seven-day new hospital admission rates in St. Louis and St. Louis County are above the CDC’s threshold of 10 new admissions per 100,000 people.

COVID new hospital admissions

  • City of St. Louis: 10.3 admissions per 100,000 residents
  • St. Louis County: 11.4 admissions per 100,000 residents

St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force hospitals reported a seven-day moving average of 38 new patients with COVID-19 as of May 31, which is the most recent data available. The task force will release new data Tuesday.

“We can expect a decline in cases and a decline in hospitalizations if our community voluntarily masks up during this critical time,” Dr. Davis said.

The CDC recommends taking several steps when the COVID-19 Community Level reaches the “High Level” status:

  • Wear a well-fitting mask indoors in public, regardless of vaccination status or individual risk. If you are immunocompromised or at high risk for severe illness, wear a mask that provides you with greater protection.
  • Stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines. The health departments join the CDC in recommending COVID-19 vaccines, including boosters, for everyone ages 5 years and older. If you are moderately or severely immunocompromised consult specific recommendations for COVID-19 vaccines, including boosters.
  • Get tested if you have symptoms.
  • Additional precautions may be needed for people at high risk for severe illness.

“COVID still poses a threat to our community, and we need to use all the tools available to us to reverse this trend and slow transmission,” said acting director of the St. Louis County Department of Public Health Dr. Faisal Khan.

While masks are not mandated on a city or county level, some businesses and at least one major attraction are resuming face covering requirements.

The Gateway Arch is requiring visitors to wear masks inside its facilities beginning Monday, regardless of vaccination status.

Pam Sanfilippo is the Program Manager for Museum Services and Interpretation and says the National Park Service has established a policy for parks across the country.

“Parks in high areas must re-implement the mask mandate,” Sanfilippo said.

The Arch Grounds sees about 6,000 to 8,000 people a day. 

“As soon as they go down to the yellow medium level or low green level, we’ll do away with the masks,” she said.

Schnucks also announced it’s requiring employees in the city, county and in several Illinois counties to wear face masks, but they are still optional for customers.

For now, a Dierbergs spokesperson says they will continue to evaluate the situation, but at this point do not have plans to change mask guidelines.

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