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County holds firm to mask-optional policy amid new CDC guidelines

On July 27, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued revised guidelines on the wearing of masks amid rising cases of COVID-19 due to the emergence of the Delta variant. The new guidelines state that even fully vaccinated Americans should wear masks indoors in areas of high COVID-19 transmission. Missouri is considered to be a national hot spot for contagion, especially for unvaccinated individuals. 

Gov. Mike Parson called the move “disappointing and concerning.” In a three-part message on Twitter, Parson wrote: 

“The recently updated CDC guidance regarding mask wearing for fully vaccinated individuals is disappointing and concerning. It’s disappointing because it is inconsistent with the overwhelming evidence surrounding the efficacy of the vaccines and their proven results.

“It only serves to disrupt the increases we are seeing in vaccine uptake. This self-inflicted setback encourages skepticism and vaccine hesitancy at a time when the goal is to prevent serious illnesses and deaths from COVID-19 through vaccination. 

“It’s concerning because the nation’s top public health agency appears to be cowering to the political pressures of those who only want to force mandates and shutdowns, which only further prolong the recovery. This decision only promotes fear and further division among our citizens.”

Parson is not alone in his concern for the recovery of state and local economies amid the ongoing challenges presented by COVID-19.

Ben Brown, who owns Satchmo’s Bar and Grill in Chesterfield and is a candidate for the Missouri Senate, spoke out at the July 27 St. Louis County Council meeting – after that municipality and St. Louis City became the first in the state to institute a mask mandate for all people, vaccinated or not,  inside public places and on public transportation. 

“(County Executive Dr. Sam Page) doesn’t seem to understand that businesses in our community have watched in horror as customers have fled the county to competing businesses in St. Charles and other neighboring counties,” Brown said. “This new policy is already having a similar effect on the limited pool of employees and St. Louis businesses struggle to simply keep their businesses staffed enough to keep their doors open.”

For his part, St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann told Mid Rivers Newsmagazine at an event on July 29, “Everybody’s talking right now about something we (St. Charles and St. Louis counties) don’t necessarily agree on. But we still talk to each other and numerous times last year I’ve just said, ‘Man, let’s get this pandemic done so we can start working on some things we want to get done and work together.’” 

In May, Ehlmann stated during a County Council meeting that his office in the summer of 2020 had received 355 emails and over 500 telephone calls from citizens asking for or demanding a county mask mandate. He noted that he had resisted this call. 

As of July 29, the official word from St. Charles County is that the governmental body will not mandate masks because such a mandate is legally unenforceable. The municipalities of Dardenne Prairie, Cottleville, O’Fallon, St. Peters and St. Charles City will follow the county’s lead, those authorities have said – keeping mask-wearing encouraged but optional. 

The Francis Howell and Fort Zumwalt school districts likewise are still operating under a mask-optional policy with the start of the fall term less than a month out. 

“We continue to closely monitor the impacts of COVID-19 – including the Delta variant – in our local area and are prepared to adjust our plans before school starts or at any point during the school year,” Jennifer Jolls, Francis Howell’s communications director, said on July 29. 

Vaccination lottery

On Wednesday, July 21, Parson announced the launch of a statewide COVID-19 vaccination incentive program, MO VIP, to encourage vaccination among all Missourians age 12 and up.

Over the next three months, 900 Missourians who have already been or choose to be vaccinated could win cash or education savings account prizes in the amount of $10,000, according to a press statement issued by the governor’s office.  

Missourians who have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine are now able to enter to win one of the 900 prizes. The first drawing will be on Aug. 13; drawings will occur every two weeks with the final drawing scheduled for Oct. 8. Once Missouri residents receive a dose, they become eligible to enter the sweepstakes at MOStopsCovid.com/win. Their entry will be carried over through all the drawings. There is no need to enter more than once. The entry list will be reviewed, and duplicate entries will be removed prior to each drawing. 

Official rules, frequently asked questions and a program timeline are available at MOStopsCovid.com/win. 

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