Judge: Local health orders tied to COVID-19 are illegal

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri judge ruled Tuesday that local health orders imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the state are illegal and should be lifted.

Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green ruled that orders such as quarantines and business closures violate the Missouri Constitution’s separation of powers clause affecting the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

The lawsuit was filed in 2020, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, when St. Louis city, St. Louis County and other jurisdictions were issuing health mandates aimed at stemming the spread of the coronavirus.

St. Louis County currently has a mask order requiring face coverings in public places indoors and on public transportation for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals 5 years and older. It cites scientific consensus from federal, state and local public health officials that masks are necessary to limit the spread of COVID-19 until more people are vaccinated.

Green said orders like that are illegal in the state.

“This case is about whether Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services regulations can abolish representative government in the creation of public health laws, and whether it can authorize closure of a school or assembly based on the unfettered opinion of an unelected official. This court finds it cannot,” Green wrote.

Green ordered that all existing health orders issued by local health authorities are “null and void.”

Among those who filed suit was Ben Brown, owner of Satchmo’s Bar and Grill in St. Louis County. Brown, who is running for a state Senate seat, said the orders were an example of “tyranny.”

“It is time for our businesses, schools and residents to embrace the freedom that this decision provides,” Brown said. “It is time to make masks optional, end needless quarantines of Missouri’s children, and go back to living productive lives while allowing individuals the freedom to choose how and when they interact with others based on each person’s or family’s personal decisions.”

Democratic St. Louis County Executive Sam Page told the County Council that the mask mandate in Missouri’s largest county should remain. He cited a rise in COVID-19 cases coming at a time when people start to gather for the holidays, and as the weather turns colder.

“Loosening mask requirements right now would be premature,” Page said. “With winter on its way, people are spending more time inside, where respiratory viruses circulate more easily.”

Page said he had not yet spoken with county attorneys to determine a response to the decision.

Green wrote in his ruling that local health officials in Missouri “have grown accustomed to issuing edicts and coercing compliance. It is far past time for this unconstitutional conduct to stop.”