Each week, we do our best to help you stay on top of the news in the County. We're thrilled that so many people find this newsletter a useful resource! (Please share with your friends, who can sign up here: https://bit.ly/3nijXBs).
NOTE: Because we have new subscribers each week (welcome!) we will continue to highlight some items that have appeared in past issues. However, to make it easier for those of you who read What Happened Last Week each week (hello!) we will indicate new or edited content with two asterisks ** and a highlight. We hope that's helpful!
Here are a few reminders, and then we'll turn to this week's updates. (Plus: Read to the end for photos of this week's Pet of the Weekand FAQ!)
Live Briefings: Dr. Page's press briefings are broadcast live on his County Executive facebook page; although they are generally held on Mondays and Wednesdays at 8:30am, this week there will be one press conference today (Monday, December 27) at 1:30pm. (https://www.facebook.
County Council Meeting: The St. Louis County Council holds its meetings at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesdays; during that meeting Dr. Sam gives his weekly County Executive Report. You can now attend the meeting in person at 41 S. Central Avenue, or watch online. To speak during the public forum portion of the meeting, you must sign up outside of the chamber doors from 6-6:28 p.m. on the date of the meeting. All Council meetings are streamed exclusively to BoxCast. Members of the public can access the stream at https://boxcast.tv/channel/
This Week's Updates
**County Sees Surge in Cases; Omicron Presumed Responsible: St. Louis County is experiencing its biggest surge in COVID-19 cases in over a year, with multiple days reporting over 500 cases per day. Last week the county was averaging around 450 new cases a day. Although the holiday has slowed reporting, the emerging trend is concerning. “This is a dramatic and quick increase. It’s blindingly fast,” said Christopher Ave, spokesman for the St. Louis County Department of Public Health.
**Masking litigation update: Last month, an elected state court judge in Cole County (Jefferson City) ruled that local health orders issued by local health departments – during a pandemic – are not valid, which has caused confusion among local public health departments across the state. The Department of Health and Human Services, which the Attorney General purportedly represented in the matter, asked the Attorney General to appeal the judge's ruling. The Attorney General refused to do so and has instead pledged to enforce the ruling – including in schools, even though it is not clear that school districts are covered by the ruling. (https://missouriindependent.
This is incredibly dangerous, and occurs while numbers are rising dramatically and as Omicron gains a foothold.
Therefore, last Monday St. Louis and Jackson counties filed a motion to intervene in the case. The motion highlighted the danger the ruling poses not just in containing COVID-19, but in dismantling public health surveillance of other diseases: "In short, if the Court’s Judgment is not set aside, community spread of all communicable diseases will no doubt skyrocket in this State ... while mechanisms for combating any such spread will have been dismantled.”
Last week, the Cole County judge denied the motion to intervene. The County will appeal that decision.
The St. Louis County Council – which unquestionably has the authority to issue mask requirements – has not yet acted on Dr. Page's request to do so as requested by the Department of Public Health. As Dr. Page explained in his correspondence to the Council, St. Louis County "is still experiencing widespread community transmission of COVID-19 ... among virtually all demographic groups. ... Public health experts have predicted that COVID-19 cases will continue to rise this winter, especially if we do not implement common-sense interventions such as a mask mandate." (Read Dr. Page's letter to the Council in the Council Agenda, here: https://stlouisco.
The Council did not introduce or pass a mask ordinance at Tuesday's meeting.
Regardless of the legal wranglings: the advice being given by world, national, state, and local health experts is the same. Masks reduce the spread of this deadly and disabling airborne virus, and keep you and the rest of the community safer. You should wear them when you are in public, indoor spaces, especially when crowded.
Dr. Page won't stop fighting for you, your family, and your health. Neither will we.
**This Week's Key County Council Votes: Each week the County Council votes on legislation that impacts all of our lives. We know it's often hard to attend or watch the Tuesday night meetings, and difficult to keep up with the votes that are being made. We hope highlighting a few key votes each week will be helpful! Note that you can see what's on the agenda at the Council's website here: https://stlouiscountymo.gov/
Council Approves Short-term Eviction Moratorium/Funding: Emergency Rental Assistance Program funds have been allocated to keep people in their homes; there have been two ERAP awards to the County, the first of which has been exhausted. Because ERAP 2 funds would not be disbursed for 60-90 days, that left landlords and renters without the funding source that has helped so many stay in their homes and get back on their feet. Last week Councilwoman Lisa Clancy (D-5th District) introduced a bill calling for a 15-day eviction moratorium and dedicating $5 million in federal funds to help keep residents in their homes this winter. The Council fast-tracked the bill, which passed unanimously, and Dr. Page signed the bills right away. Thanks to Lisa Clancy for introducing these bills and the Council for its leadership on this urgent issue.
Council Unanimously Votes for Online Sales Tax to Go On April Ballot: In April, voters will decide whether to approve a "use tax" on out-of-state internet purchases. The Council unanimously approved placing the question on the April 5 ballot, under a new state law that requires out-of-state retailers that sell more than $100,000 in goods in Missouri annually to collect a sales tax on purchases. The total countywide sales tax rate is 3.5%, but the use tax would be applied at the same rate as the County’s patchwork of local sales taxes, depending on where residents live. In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision allowing states to collect sales tax from online retailers; up until this recent state law was passed, Missouri was the last state in the country without an online sales tax. Beginning January 1, online purchases will be subject to the 4.2% state sales tax. If approved by voters, St. Louis County could see as much as $10 million in revenue from the use tax, budget policy director Paul Kreidler said Wednesday.
Next Council Meeting January 4: The County Council will select new leadership for 2022 at the January 4 meeting. Rita Heard Days (D-1st Dist) has been the 2021 chair; Mark Harder (R-7th Dist) has been the vice-chair.
**Franklin County Health Director Resigns: Franklin County Health Department Director Angie Hittson has resigned, citing “daily verbal assaults, threats of violence and even death threats,” according to Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker. Incidents involving heath-care workers being harassed by those who are upset about COVID-19-related safety measures have been happening across the country. Over a dozen of Missouri's local health department director positions have become vacant since the start of the pandemic.
**Rams Settlement Funding Update: Last week the County confirmed that the $790 million settlement agreement to end the lawsuit over the Rams' relocation has been paid, althoug the distribution and allocation of the funds is still being negotiated. The settlement ended a lawsuit by St. Louis City, St. Louis County and the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority that alleged that the Rams and owner Stan Kroenke violated the NFL's relocation guidelines and did not operate in good faith when the team moved to Los Angeles.
**Council Passes Budget Bill That Restores Cuts Public Health, but Not to Other Departments: Each year's budget must be passed by the end of the year. Two weeks ago one of the budget bills that was passed by the Council stripped $20 million in funding from the $28.5 million requested by the Department of Public Health. Voting in favor of the bill were Council Chair Days (D-1st District), Councilman Fitch (R-3rd District), Councilwoman Webb (D-4th District), Councilman Harder (R-7th District). Councilman Trakas (R-6th District) objected that the Council had just received newly revised budget bills that afternoon and he had insufficient time to review. Councilwoman Clancy (D-5th District) echoed that objection, explaining that the various department staff also had insufficient time to review.
The cuts were apparently intended to strip any new DPH programs that sought federal funds. However, the cuts actually included ~$20 million from the public health fund, most of which was not new but for COVID-19 mitigation efforts, including PPE and additional staff for vaccine and testing clinics. Those expenses have been funded via 2020 federal emergency COVID-19 funds that are expected to run out in 2022; the Page administration proposed using ARPA money to continue them.
Last week, the Council restored that DPH funding, while retaining the cuts on other departments, including a request for $2.1 million for Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell to hire 15 attorneys and 15 secretaries; $1 million for the Department of Transportation and Public Works for infrastructure repairs; $1.2 million for website upgrades by the Department of Information Technology; $948,000 for the Municipal Court system to add two judges and three clerks; and $659,900 to the County Counselor office to cover the addition of two new attorneys, two paralegals and an investigator. The Council increased its own budget by approximately $291,000 in total.
**Justice Department Files Brief Supporting County's Challenge to State Gun Law: Last week Justice Department officials filed a brief detailing how a Missouri state law forbidding local police from enforcing federal gun laws is hampering efforts to protect the public. The brief says the law “poses a clear and substantial threat to public safety" and has “seriously impaired the federal government’s ability to combat violent crime in Missouri.” The brief lists a number of examples, such as state law enforcement officials refusing routine federal assistance in tracing a murder weapon, the Missouri state crime lab's refusal to process evidence that would help federal firearms prosecutions, and the Missouri Information and Analysis Center's refusal to cooperate with federal agencies investigating federal firearms offenses. The Highway Patrol, along with many other agencies, have suspended joint efforts to enforce federal firearms laws.
St. Louis County, St. Louis City, and Jackson County have filed suit challenging the gun law. A Cole County court's decision upholding the law is being appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court. (For astute followers, the judge issuing the decision upholding the law is the same judge that issued the ruling forbidding local public health departments from issuing public health orders.)
**The Year In Review: It's been a challenging and remarkable year. This week the County highlighted just a few of the projects and iniatives it's undertaken:
•The Department of Public Health held 339 neighborhood COVID-19 clinics at 139 different locations across St. Louis County. Dr. Page is grateful for the partnerships we built with businesses, community organizations and places of worship to make the vaccine more accessible.
•St. Louis County Parks hosted the US Youth Soccer Midwest Regional Championships at Creve Coeur Park Soccer Complex that brought more than 4,000 athletes from 13 different states to St. Louis County with an estimated economic impact of $10M.
•Human Services' Adopt a Family program provided gifts for more than 115 families in need.
•The Weinman Shelter for survivors of domestic violence served 126 women and children this year. It is the only emergency shelter in St. Louis County and the largest in the region.
•Justice Services built partnerships to train residents in culinary skills to help find employment and collaborated with Saint Louis University to offer virtual job interviews to help with the transition back into the community.
•The Department of Public Health made Narcan available at all 3 health clinics and distributed more than 900 Narcan rescue kits this year.
•The Department of Information Technology won 3 awards this year for their work modernizing our website and services for residents. Learn more about the awards here: https://stlouiscountymo.gov/
•Spirit Airport welcomed the Blue Angels in November ahead of their return in June for the 2022 Spirit of St. Louis Airshow.
•St. Louis County Parks hung more than one million twinkling lights for another incredibly successful year of Winter Wonderland at Tilles Park.
**IAFF Local 2665 Endorses Dr. Page: This week, Professional Firefighters and Paramedics of Eastern Missouri IAFF Local 2665 announced their continued support of Dr. Page as County Executive, and their endorsement of his upcoming 2022 candidacy, saying: "Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, you have shown that you will put Firefighters, Paramedics, and Dispatchers needs first. Your history as a strong supporter of IAFF Local 2665, and your willingness to address issues affecting the fire service in St. Louis County illustrate that you are willing to work to achieve a common good, regardless of political alignment.
Throughout your tenure as County Executive, you have proven your commitment to the region, and as you enter your next term as County Executive your familiarity with our issues will be invaluable in helping our members receive the protections they deserve."
Dr. Page is proud to have IAFF Local 2665's support!
**Thousands Help Dr. Page Identify Good Samaritan Trucker on Christmas: On Christmas, Dr. Page asked social media followers to help him find a truck driver whose actions saved a saw mill from a devastating fire. Late in the evening on Tuesday, Dec 21st, Dr. Page's cousin, Lanny Burke, the owner and operator of Three Oaks Lumber in south central Missouri, received a call to alert him that his lumber mill was on fire. As he rushed to the mill and pulled off the highway, he saw an intense fire and a fire department working furiously to contain it. The volunteer fire department from the small town of 850 and the department from a neighboring town worked to save equipment and supplies. As they were working, they noticed a volunteer that no one knew.
A young man, a truck driver from Tennessee, had been driving eastbound on 60 highway between Fremont and Van Buren. He was the first to see the flames at the mill, and he was the one who called it in. He then turned his semi tractor trailer truck around, parked it on the shoulder of the highway, and started helping get tools and equipment out of harms way, along with a couple of the workers that live nearby.
His quick action allowed the community to respond and save the mill. It took some damage for sure. But they will be able to repair and recover.
The driver got back on the road and left before anyone could get his name or say thank you.
Dr. Page asked for help identifying this Good Samaritan truck driver, and with the help of thousands of people on social media, a gentleman has come forward. Dr. Page and his family are so very grateful to him, and to the thousands of people who shared the story.
In thanking the community, Dr. Page noted that this Good Samaritan's actions struck a chord with a lot of people, perhaps because it's a story of people helping people – of a stranger acting heroically at great personal risk – without being asked, and without expecting a reward. It's a reminder of who we are when we are at our best.
As Dr. Page said: "I hope as we go into this new year, we can all show each other the compassion and selflessness this man showed. We will all be better for it."
**Red Tail Cadet Program Helps High School Students Obtain Pilot's License: The Spirit of St. Louis Airport hosted an amazing program this year alongside partners Elite Aviation and The Crossing. The Red Tail Cadet program put six students from the Ferguson-Florissant School District through an intense summer training that enabled them to get a pilot's license and start an aviation career path. The graduation happened in August with four of the students successfully flying solo. It's an amazing opportunity for these kids, and a great example of how our community is working together in creative ways to boost opportunity. Way to go!
**Happy Birthday to Sharon McBain! Sharon has worked for the county for 24.5 years and this week the County wished her an early happy birthday with 60 balloons to celebrate another trip around the sun.
**New Library Headquarters Building to be Completed by Jan 2023: The new two-story headquarters will have 74,000 square feet of space with high windows. It will include typical County library amenities such as private study rooms, a reading room, computer lab and community meeting rooms, along with new additions such as a small business center, an 800-seat event space for author events, a high-tech creative space for teens featuring a 3-D printer, a recording studio, a green screen studio, and a children's space with a large playhouse and other interactive learning activities.
It will also have a fireplace to curl up next to with a good book – the perfect place to spend winter days! The new headquarters is the final part of the Your Library Renewed campaign, a more than $120 million, tax-funded effort to renovate or replace 19 of 20 branches in the St. Louis County Library District.
**St. Louis County Vaccination Rates Top In State Again!: St. Louis County is the highest vaccinated county in Missouri – 67% of St. Louis Countians have at least initiated vaccination, and 59.2% have completed vaccination.
Recycle Your Holiday Tree, Lights: Wondering what to do after the holiday with your natural tree – or those pesky strands of holiday lights that aren't working anymore? St. Louis County has resources for you! The Parks Department uses recycled fresh-cut natural trees as natural fish habitats and mulch; holiday light recycling is available at Winter Wonderland and some other locations. Check out the full holiday recycling guide here: http://ow.ly/gEcO50GYY1h
Winter Wonderland in Full Swing! Go to the Winter Wonderland website to see each day's schedule, and for the link to purchase tickets. https://www.
Property Tax Season Underway: Did you know that you can pay your personal and real estate taxes online? You can! Just go to https://revenue.stlouisco.
**Frequently Asked Question:
If I'm symptomatic and the rapid test I take comes back negative, does that mean I definitely don't have COVID?
Unfortunately it's not that simple. First of all, rapid tests require quite a bit of virus to be present on the sample in order to register a positive; they are not as sensitive as PCR tests. For that reason it's recommended that you take more than one (a few hours apart). You can get a false negative – at least initially – if you are vaccinated and symptomatic because the vaccine is working!
Here's why: the vaccine shows your immune system what to look for – and fight. So, when exposed to COVID, your immune system will get to work right away, even before there's sufficient number of virus to register on a rapid test. Rapid tests require a significant amount of virus to result in a positive, sufficient that you would be considered contageous. So, if you register negative on a rapid test but have symptoms of COVID, you could be infected with the virus but not yet infectious. That could change within hours, however. So, if you are feeling ill and a rapid test does not register a positive, either obtain a PCR test or conduct another rapid test (ideally a few hours later).
**Pet of the Week!: We really love our Pet of the Week segment. This week we're highlighting Walker, a one-year-old pup who is just about as friendly as they come. He knows ‘sit’ and is such a good boy! Learn more here: https://petharbor.com/
The shelter is open on the weekends from 12-3pm, and during the week by appointment. Any questions regarding the adoption process can be directed to the adoption desk at 314-615-0650 (opt. 3). Learn more about the adoption process and find the adoption application online here: https://stlouiscountymo.
St. Louis County Library News:
St. Louis County Libraries are open for browsing without an appointment. Learn more at www.slcl.org/reopening. The
Grab-and-Go Meals: Operation Food Search provides free grab and go meals for kids, Monday-Friday at select SLCL locations. Learn more: www.slcl.org/after-school-
Join the Winter Reading Challenge! All ages can participate. Register online at www.slcl.org. Print one of the log sheets (there's one for each age category) to help track. Complete at least 5 activities to be entered in an electronic prize raffle. Mark activities complete by January 31.
St. Louis County Parks news:
Bows for Birds Begins! The Audubon Center at Riverlands has begun its second annual Bows for Birds challenge – a scavenger hunt that takes you to 12 different area parks in search of wooden cutouts of native birds. And yes! There are prizes! It's a great family-friendly event. Learn more here: https://riverlands.
The Fall/Winter Activity Guide is available! Learn more about special events, day camps, swimming lessons, outdoor programs and more: http://ow.ly/my0Z50DQ9n5
To say this is a challenging, fast-paced time is an understatement, but we hope updates like this will help you keep track of what's going on week-to-week.
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Dr. Sam's Team