This post was originally published on St. Louis American

The St. Louis American editorial

“The court notes that although some will take this court’s ruling as a victory there is no victory while the COVID-19 virus remains a significant threat to public health and there is no question it remains a significant threat to public health.”

— St. Louis County Circuit Judge Ellen Ribaudo

Not satisfied with presiding over the disparate priorities of the state of Missouri, which finds itself being compared to some of the nation’s most backward states, the Republican party’s appointed Attorney General, Eric Schmitt, sought a restraining order prohibiting St. Louis County from enforcing a mask mandate. The court granted a temporary restraining order that will last at least until Aug. 17. St. Louis County Council Court Judge Ellen Ribaudo ruled that, “it’s likely that Schmitt will prevail because of the state law that gives the St. Louis County Council the authority to terminate the July 26, 2021 face covering order issued by the county defendants.” She wrote further that, “the court’s ruling in no way speaks to or determines the wisdom of the St. Louis Council vote to determine the face covering order.”

Schmitt, who is running a desperate candidacy for the U.S. Senate, was elated, writing, “This is an important, hard-fought victory.” He hopes to replicate this outcome in a lawsuit that seeks to stop the mask mandate across the state in Kansas City. 

His position is understandable, even expected from a senatorial candidate anxious to gain acceptance from the Trump-fixated Republican base in Missouri. No matter that this modest preventative health mandate is in accord with the CDC’s latest recommendation that wearing a mask is helpful in slowing the spread of this deadly, highly contagious virus that is surging in Missouri. The state Department of Health and Senior Services announced on Tuesday that COVID-19 hospitalizations were over 2,000 for the first time since January, and the seven-day average of reported cases was up 9% from a week ago and 211% from a month ago. 

It is widely acknowledged that the spread of COVID-19 is largely clustered in communities in North St. Louis city and county. So where are Black elected officials in the fight against this scourge? The two Black members on the St. Louis County Council provided the decisive votes that allowed this victory for the Republican minority on the council. That means that these two women just joined the three Republicans led by the dubious councilman and former St. Louis County Police Chief, Tim Fitch, to overturn an initiative to help ameliorate the spread and destruction wreaked by a virus that disproportionately impacts Black people.

Fitch says he supports the restraining order, arguing that his opposition is based solely on his concern that County Executive Dr. Sam Page has worked around the council. He snidely says he is ready to sit down with the county executive and health department to collaborate on health policy. These are the disingenuous words of a person who is expected to run for county executive and is a persistent, outspoken critic of Page. 

Fitch, who says that although he has already taken the vaccine himself, is an opponent of mandates, as is his Republican colleague Ernie Trakas, citing the dubious Republican argument that they support individuals’ freedom to make their own health decisions.

Meanwhile, The St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force stated firmly on Tuesday that whatever the status of the mask mandate, the task force favors masks and social distancing, especially indoors, to protect the vulnerable and underage children who are not yet eligible for vaccines. The Task Force said that, “due to the more contagious nature of the delta variant, without an increase in vaccination rates and mask wearing, the virus will keep winning and…we will see more deaths in our area.” 

So far, we have not heard much from the Black women on the council about their position on this critical, life and death issue that is a plague on the Black community. We need to hear from them, and most certainly from Rita Heard Days, who is council chair and the person who presided over the raucous council meeting on Tuesday that saw an honorable public health professional of color, Dr. Faisal Khan, being mistreated by the unruly anti-mask mandate zealots. 

The crowd included Mark McCloskey, who along with his wife waved guns at peaceful Black Lives Matter protestors marching through their Central West End neighborhood last year. He was pardoned earlier this week by Republican Governor Mike Parson. He seemed to agree with what Days told The American—she said she believes that the meeting went well, and that she maintained control of the highly-partisan, mainly white crowd. McCloskey seemed to agree with Days’ assessment. 

Clearly the Black community deserves more forthright and principled leadership in any efforts to better contain this COVID scourge, not more self-serving political posturing that includes consorting with the Republicans that control this state and yearn to seize power in the Democratic stronghold , St. Louis County, a county whose most reliable Democratic constituency is the Black community. 

Under Republican dominance in this state, we see Missouri in the lower half of prosperity measurements compared with the country’s other states and Republicans seem unwilling to shake the backwardness of the state’s regressive Southern roots and its dire consequences.