Just 35 percent of the 35,000 people living Laclede County, Missouri, are vaccinated, but the county health department announced Thursday that it will stop all its COVID-19 mitigation efforts.
“Laclede County Health Department has been forced to cease all COVID-19 related work at the current time,” the southern Missouri agency said in a statement on Facebook. Roughly half of all Missouri residents are vaccinated.
The department is quashing its coronavirus prevention efforts—ordering exposed and positive residents to isolate themselves, contact tracing, tracking and announcing case numbers and deaths—under duress.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, currently campaigning for a seat in the U.S. Senate on a platform of overturning coronavirus restrictions, told local health departments across the state on Dec. 7, “Public health authorities and school districts have gone unchecked, issuing illegal and unconstitutional orders in their quest to aggregate, maintain, and exert their new-found power… You should stop enforcing and publicizing any such orders immediately,” referring to quarantine orders, mask mandates, and other COVID-19 mandates.
He threatened to take legal action against counties that don’t abide by his demands. The Kansas City Star pointed out that Laclede County may be taking more drastic steps that Schmitt has even required.
“While this is a huge concern for our agency, we have no other options but to follow the orders of the Missouri Attorney General at this time. We are awaiting additional direction from the Missouri department of Health and Senior Service, but have no timeline or expectations that this ruling will be changed,” the Laclede department’s statement reads.
A spokesperson told The Daily Beast, “We explained everything in the release. What I would say is that we are not stopping our covid work. Internally, we are still continuing the work of tracking cases. What we are stopping is what has been required.” The agency declined to comment on why its release said it would stop all work on COVID-19.
A spokesperson for the the attorney general told the Kansas City Star, “We’re grateful that the Laclede County Health Department has ceased their COVID-19 public health orders like their quarantine order.”
Cases have been on the rise in Laclede over the past month, and the county boasts the sixth-highest COVID-19 death rate in the state, according to data from the Missouri Health Department. The Laclede department recommended that those who test positive consult the Center for Disease Control’s website.
COVID-19 has devastated Missouri throughout the year despite the protection offered by vaccines. The state endured a massive surge in coronavirus cases over the summer as the Delta variant spread and sickened tens of thousands, including tourists who returned to their home states infected. A coroner in the state admitted to excluding COVID-19 cases from death certificates at the requests of families.
A Laclede County Health Department told the Star that it would continue to offer “consulting” opinions to local physicians, employers, and residents if they call.
The attorney general’s directive arises from a court case that invalidated the authority of local health departments to issue disease-control orders like mask mandates or mandatory quarantines on the basis that their leaders are not elected officials. The head of the state health department requested the attorney general appeal the ruling, but he declined and instead has attempted to enforce it on health departments and school districts statewide.
“This ruling greatly affects how we will be able to proceed with ALL highly communicable diseases in the future,” the Laclede County Health Department wrote.