ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- The St. Louis Pandemic Task Force is urging the return of masking in public places as the region begins to feel the effects of a third wave of coronavirus infections.

In a statement Tuesday, new task force leader Dr. Clay Dunagan said unlike previous surges, the current crisis can be mitigated by masks and vaccination efforts.

“When we first initiated masking and social distancing guidelines, the goal was to wear masks for protection until a vaccine was available,” explained Dr. Dunagan. “The vaccine is available, but unfortunately the vaccination rate in our community has not been high enough to prevent spread of the delta variant. We now need to return to masking to combat this new wave of infections.”

Angeles Waddy supported the task force's call to mask up.

"Anything that we can do to keep somebody from dying or being sick," he said.

According to the task force, in the last 24 hours, seven people in the St. Louis region have died from COVID-19 and 91 were admitted to the ICU. Nearly all were unvaccinated.

Missouri currently has a 50% vaccination rate, and Dunagan said that number needs to be significantly higher before wearing masks in public can be a thing of the past.

“I know this doesn’t seem fair,” said Dunagan in the release. “The CDC has approved removing masks among vaccinated individuals. But our community doesn’t have enough vaccinated individuals to safely implement these recommendations in the face of the influx of the delta variant."

Tracie Smith believes there'll be resistance to wearing masks in public again.

"People were so ready to stop wearing a mask it's going to be hard to get them back to wearing a mask again," she said.

The task force stated Tuesday that "without a dramatic return to regular masking in public places, and a stronger commitment to vaccination," the region could face drastic measures to control hospital populations, including no longer allowing visitors and delaying elective procedures.

St. Louis City and County issued the following statement after Dunnegan's comments, saying the current policy on mask wearing will not change, for now:

St. Louis County continues to experience sharp increases in the average number of new cases per day, currently at 170. That is 34 percent higher than just one week ago. St. Louis City has seen an increase in new cases across all ZIP codes, 38 percent higher than a week ago, with African-Americans making up 80% of new reported cases since May. Additionally, we have seen our regional positivity rate grow to around 10 percent, and we are aware that the “hot spot” in southwest Missouri is moving northeast toward our region. We are very concerned with these numbers and are actively studying further steps.

On July 1, the City and County issued a public health advisory on mask wearing; a second advisory was issued July 12. Our departments encourage everyone to follow the advice from our public health experts. The advisories and other information can be found at stlcorona.com and stlouis-mo.gov. Regional health departments are absolutely in support of universal mask wearing by vaccinated and unvaccinated residents, particularly indoors. We believe it is critical for everyone’s safety.

Our region is watching national news and trends very carefully and have paid attention to the mask mandates that have been initiated by other local jurisdictions. While we do not have an announcement to make today, this is a topic of conversation. For the moment, we will continue to urge everyone to wear masks, even if you are vaccinated.

Vaccination remains the best protection against COVID-19, and the City and County urge you to get vaccinated immediately if you have not done so, and have your family members 12 and older do the same. Finally, anyone with any symptoms of COVID-19 – including headache, sore throat, fever, coughing and other flu-like symptoms – should seek immediate testing. Anyone who tests positive must isolate, and those who have had recent contact with that individual must quarantine.

Sources tell News 4 that businesses are consulting St. Louis City and County leaders on what a new mask mandate would look like if it was put into place.

Copyright 2021 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved

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