ST. LOUIS COUNTY (KMOV.com) -- Jan. 21 will mark two years since the first Covid-19 case was reported in the U.S. In light of the anniversary, St. Louis County Executive Dr. Sam Page sat down with News 4 to reflect on what has worked and what hasn't in the two year battle against the pandemic.
"I thought we would see a wave, we would deal with it, and we would move on. No one expected it to go on for two years," said Page.
But two years in, nearly 200,000 positive covid cases and nearly 2,900 hundred deaths from covid have been reported in St. Louis County.
Page says he still stands by public health orders, including masking and social distancing, despite vocal criticism. Protests have erupted outside county council meetings and critics have taken to the mic inside to voice their opposition to Dr. Page's public health orders.
"It's just criminal. No one should be forced to wear a mask," said one woman at a protest this summer.
"It's a question of what's an individual's responsibility to try and slow the spread of a disease in a community, what's the right thing to do and what should we be requiring them to do to prevent others from being harmed. It's a battle between community benefit and individual rights," said Page.
Page says he’s never seen public health become so politicized, but he's gone head-to-head with other politicians on the council, including Tim Fitch, and Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, both of whom have accused Page of making illegal mandates.
"We have a difference of opinion on how to do the job. He is certainly in a political campaign and that’s going to flavor some of the actions he takes but there is nothing personal between us," said Page about the on-going disputes with Schmitt.
Looking back, Page says he thinks the initial coordinated response between the city and county was good. But says he wishes he would have done other things differently.
"I wish I could have anticipated the way this was politicized. I don’t think anybody saw that but if I would have known, I would have found folks with conservative credentials who also supports public health orders and there are many, many in our community, they are a little bit quiet but they are starting to speak more but folks with conservative credentials that support our health orders, support masking, support vaccines, I think they need to be more front and center to demonstrate that this isn’t a partisan issue. This is just about taking care of your family and your community and it’s the right thing to do," said Page.
Despite the criticism, voters overwhelmingly agreed to keep Page in the office when they hit the polls in the middle of the pandemic. Now, up for his first full-term election this fall, he says it’s a job he still wants.
"You have to be ready to make hard decisions and you have to recognize not everyone is going to like them but someone has to make those decisions," said Page.
Page has stepped back from many in-person meetings and currently attends county council meetings by video conference but he says he is waiting for guidance from the public health director and for transmission levels to drop to a more moderate level before regularly returning to in-person attendance.
"I'm hopeful we can get away from these masks in the coming weeks and get back to in-person events and I'd like to see our council meetings in person," he said.
A big topic at those meetings in the weeks to come will be how to spend millions of dollars in the next round of federal covid relief funds.