St. Louis Lifts Mask Mandate Just One Day After Imposing It

St. Louis authorities in Missouri swiftly revoked a recently imposed mask mandate, acknowledging a failure in accurately conveying the current infection levels. Initially communicated by Dr. Matifadza Hlatshwayo Davis, the health director of St. Louis, the mandate required city workers to wear masks indoors and during shared rides in city vehicles starting January 5.

This decision was rooted in the claim of a 55 percent surge in influenza cases compared to the highest median value of the past five years, coupled with rising cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and COVID-19 hospitalizations.

“Influenza, RSV, and COVID-19 diagnoses and hospital visits have been sharply increasing,” Dr. Davis said. She added, “we must take action to slow transmission and prevent strain on our hospital systems.”

Nevertheless, St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones confirmed the withdrawal of the mandate approximately 24 hours later.

“The City of St. Louis has updated its communications with employees surrounding masking. The City of St. Louis Department of Health strongly recommends masking indoors for all City of St. Louis employees, effective immediately,” the Mayor’s office said.

The health department, on January 4, referenced BHC Healthcare system data indicating a surge in RSV cases and heightened influenza instances. Nevertheless, on Friday, the health department re-evaluated the data and aimed to “clarify the information.”

“Previously reported percent change estimates compared the current RSV and flu seasons to the median of previous seasons but did not adequately adjust for differences in temporality,” health officials explained.

BJC HealthCare officials informed KSDK-TV that the hospital system faced no strain on capacity, with respiratory infection cases at a typical level. Dr. Jim Hinrichs, interim co-director of the St. Louis County Department of Public Health, noted that influenza levels were actually lower than the previous year.

The St. Louis Department of Health’s latest influenza season weekly report from December 23, 2023, revealed that influenza-like illness reports constituted around 2.4 percent of all emergency department visits in the city. Although daily visits were higher than the preceding fall and winter, they were lower than the fall and winter of 2022-2023.

New COVID-19 hospital admissions reached 312 for the week ending December 30, 2023, marking the highest number recorded since May 2023. However, there were no indications that officials distinguished between incidental hospitalizations and those directly related to COVID-19.

Despite limited robust data confirming the effectiveness of influenza, RSV, and COVID-19 vaccines, St. Louis officials persist in endorsing vaccination.

“If we all do our part and voluntarily mask up, we can expect the number of cases and hospitalizations to decrease over the coming weeks,” Dr. Davis said in a statement.