Mask opponents at risk after virus case at Missouri meeting

Associated Press
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page listens to Angelina Isaac criticize the mask mandate during public comments during a St. Louis County Council meeting on Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Clayton, Mo. Laurie Skrivan/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP

O'FALLON, Mo. (AP) — Many people were maskless as they expressed their displeasure with a mask mandate during a boisterous, four-hour St. Louis County Council meeting, and now contact tracers are trying to determine if anyone picked up the coronavirus after someone at the meeting tested positive for COVID-19.

The delta variant of the coronavirus that emerged in rural areas of Missouri has made its way to urban areas, prompting new mask mandates in St. Louis city and county last month and one that began Monday in Kansas City.

The St. Louis County mandate was the subject of a turbulent meeting last Tuesday. Democratic County Executive Sam Page said Monday that many of those who spoke and attended ignored the mandate that requires masks in indoor public places.

A St. Louis city resident who was at the county meeting began showing symptoms the next day and tested positive for COVID-19. Health officials issued an advisory asking everyone who attended the meeting — even those who are fully vaccinated — to quarantine through Aug. 10.

"Yes, it's unfortunate that many of those Tuesday night ignored the law, but that's what happened," Page said during a live-streamed video from his home. "As a result, this is where we are, wondering how many people were exposed to the virus and how many will become sick from the virus."

Among those quarantining is the county's health director, Faisal Khan. He spoke in support of the mask mandate and claimed that afterward he was assaulted and bombarded with racial slurs. County Councilman Tim Fitch, a Republican, questioned if Khan, a U.S. citizen who is originally from Pakistan, was really assaulted.

Page's office and the County Council are both investigating.

"This was not St. Louis County's finest moment," Page said. "The community I love was thrust into the national spotlight for bad behavior, xenophobia, racism and resistance to recommendations from scientists and doctors."

Page said that two months ago, St. Louis County was experiencing about 40 new COVID-19 cases per day. Now, it's seeing 274 cases per day, and the infection rate has risen from 2.9% to 11.4%.

The Kansas City law requires a mask for everyone age 5 or older in public indoor places such as bars, restaurants, grocery stores and other places. The order is in effect until at least Aug. 28.