St. Louis County Restaurants Threaten to Sue Sam Page Over COVID Rules

Nov 16, 2020 at 10:52 am
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page says everyone is suffering during the pandemic. - SCREENSHOT/FACEBOOK
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page says everyone is suffering during the pandemic.

St. Louis County and restaurants could be headed to court over new pandemic-related restrictions.

Bartolino's Restaurant, part of a family-owned group, promised to fight a temporary ban on indoor dining that was announced last week by St. Louis County Executive Sam Page as the county tries to get surging cases of COVID-19 under control.

"Our employees are FAMILY, and Sam Page took a direct uppercut towards their livelihood," Bartolino's posted Sunday on Facebook. "We have partnered with other local county restaurants to file a lawsuit against Sam Page, and plan to REMAIN OPEN for SAFE Indoor Dining."

The new rules, set to go into effect at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, limit bars and restaurants to takeout and outdoor dining, tightening restrictions that allowed establishments to host a limited number of customers. The county's new public health order also says anyone five and older must wear a mask in public or while meeting with others. The orders also limit gatherings to ten or fewer and reduces capacity limits at all businesses  (with some exceptions, including those for hospitals) to 25 percent.

The order imposes some of the toughest rules since early in the pandemic, and the backlash was swift, not only from a segment of business owners, but conservative politicians.

State Sen. Andrew Koenig, a member of the far-right Missouri Senate conservative caucus, called Page a "tyrant" and a "dictator" because the ten-person limit private gatherings would affect large Thanksgiving celebrations.

During a press briefing this morning, Page said nobody was eager to impose new restrictions, but they're important to address a surge in cases that health experts recently warned would overrun hospital intensive care units within two weeks if nothing is done.

"This is not politics, so please stop politicizing this," Page said. "This is a pandemic. This is making people sick. This is not the cold or the flu. This is a deadly virus."

Bartolino's said they and other restaurants "are not going quietly," despite the order.

"Sam Page's overreach with the arbitrary closure of indoor dining for county restaurants and bars is irresponsible," the restaurant's post reads.

During this morning's news conference, Page addressed a reporter's question about the possibility of a lawsuit.

"We've gone through this before, our public health orders are pretty firmly established in law, the decisions are based on recommendations form our public health experts and our medical community."

Earlier in the pandemic, a gym owner in the county sued over shutdowns. A federal judge ruled the county had the legal authority to impose health orders to slow the spread of the virus.

"For bars and restaurants we recognize this is a very difficult time," Page said this morning. "This is a very difficult time for all of our businesses. This is a difficult time for hospitals and health care providers. This is a difficult time for people who have tested positive who are in the hospitals struggling for their lives and a difficult time for families who have lost their loved ones. And we’re all going to work through this together."

He said the county issued its latest order after considering the advice of its health department and outside health experts, as well as examining data on a recent spike in cases and the way the virus has been spreading. Stricter measures in nearby counties and a statewide mask mandate would help Page said.

"We'd be better off in our region and in our state if we had a statewide masking order," Page said. "We'd be better off in our country if we had a national plan to respond to this virus, but this is where we are, and we're going to move forward with the resources we have to try to protect the health and welfare of everyone in St. Louis County."

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