Dr. Faisal Khan. St Louis County photo.

On Monday, as a means of getting a major outbreak of COVID-19 in Missouri under control, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page ordered a mask mandate for all indoor public spaces, regardless of whether people are vaccinated or not. (Mostly not; not quite 45 percent of people in St Louis County are fully vaccinated; the single-dose rate is a bit better, at 51.4 percent.)

Tuesday night, the County Council voted 5 to 2 to rescind the mask policy, arguing that Page had overstepped his authority or that the mandate hadn't followed proper procedure. You may have seen the viral video — like, literally viral — of the mostly unmasked crowd of mostly MAGA meatheads cheering wildly when the vote was announced, for freedom and for the uninterrupted spread of the highly infectious Delta variant.

Those are some pretty happy virus fans! Somebody should do an Outbreak-style animation of all the respiratory droplets being shared in the crowd.


Prior to the vote, the St. Louis County Council heard testimony from Dr. Faisal Khan, the acting county health director. He warned that the Delta variant was spiking in the area, and that the mask order should stay in place to protect public health. His testimony was frequently interrupted by shouts from the crowd, prompting Chair Rita Heard Days to call for quiet several times. Khan sent a letter to Ms. Days yesterday in which he said that during and after his testimony, he'd been targeted by "racist, xenophobic, and threatening behavior" of a sort he'd never experienced before in his 25 years in public health.

Khan, a US citizen since 2013, wrote that the harassment had started with a "dog-whistle question from Councilman Tim Fitch (R), who said he wanted to emphasize for the assembled crowd that I was not from this country." Fitch later insisted he was merely "introducing" Khan to the folks, who might not have known him as well as the councilmembers did, when he asked

Dr. Khan, we certainly have heard of your background before, but most here have not. Can you tell us why you're called "Dr." Khan? Are you a physician in the United States?

Khan answered that while he's not a clinical physician, he's an epidemiologist who specializes in infectious diseases and their control.

Khan also wrote that around the time Fitch asked whether Khan is a real doctor in the USA, Fitch's MAGA pal Mark McCloskey — yes, the guy who thinks waving an AR-15 at Black Lives Matter demonstrators qualifies him for the US Senate — posted a message to social media saying that mask mandates are "simply un-American." Hey, the timing could be completely coincidental!

Khan said that McCloskey and another Republican political figure, failed 2020 county executive candidate Paul Berry, both sitting directly behind him in the audience, "consistently berated me and tried to distract me from my presentation" and that while he spoke, he could hear other audience members mocking his accent by impersonating "The Simpsons" character Apu, because golly South Asian people sure talk funny.

We should note that while it's clear from the video of the hearing that there were frequent interruptions from the crowd, the audience's comments couldn't be picked up clearly on mic; at one point (1:05:55), as Khan was walking up the aisle of the room, there are indistinct catcalls — pretty sure we heard a "fuck you" — and Days warns the crowd that she doesn't want to have anyone removed, but will if she has to.

And then things got uglier, Khan writes, and in reaction to racist taunts, he replied with a single-finger retort:

After my presentation was completed, I tried to leave the chamber but was confronted by several people who were in the aisle. On more than one occasion, I was shoulder-bumped and pushed. As I approached the exit and immediately outside the chambers, I became surrounded by the crowd in close quarters, where members of the crowd yelled at me, calling me a "fat brown cunt" and a "brown bastard." After being physically assaulted, called racist slurs, and surrounded by an angry mob, I expressed my displeasure by using my middle finger toward an individual who had physically threatened me and called me racist slurs.

Khan added that "when faced with the racist vitriol that Councilman Fitch has been privately and publicly stoking against me since my appointment, I cannot say I am sorry."

Not surprisingly, the scandal has now become a public official flipping off an innocent citizen who was there to express their views.

County Executive Page came to Khan's support following the release of the letter, saying the "actions against Dr. Khan are troubling and under investigation," and saying the behavior Khan described was "intolerable."

Fitch, for his part, insists he hasn't the least idea what Khan meant by that talk of "racist vitriol," and blamed Page for putting Khan up to writing the letter to cover up the terrible horrible mask policy and Khan's outrageous bird-flipping. Fitch told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in an interview,

The entire letter is another desperate attempt at deflection and diversion by Sam Page [...] Dr. Khan knew he was in trouble for (giving the middle finger) and this was an opportunity to put that on someone else.

A spokesperson for McCloskey, Ben Bradley, insisted that McCloskey didn't heckle Khan at all, calling the claim "fictitious." And we bet that's 100 percent true. We certainly wouldn't expect a fib from a guy who spun out a total fiction about Black Lives Matter protesters planning to burn down his house and kill his entire family by walking past it on the way to somewhere else.

Yesterday, Page said that the mask order remains in effect, because it does not restrict businesses and is therefore not in violation of the state's dumb law banning public health in general (we're summarizing a bit). And until the matter is settled by the courts, he says, everyone aged five and older — with some narrow exceptions — must mask up indoors in public places. St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones also issued a citywide mask mandate, and we're sure this will all go just fine as people realize that the goal here is to save lives, not to inflame stupid culture wars nonsense.

And then we woke up with a big puddle of drool on our desk and saw this CNN report on Missourians sneaking out to secretly get vaccinated so their anti-vax maniac families won't scream at them.

America, we're fucked.

[Riverfront Times / St. Louis Post-Dispatch / Riverfront Times / St Louis County Council Meetings on Youtube / CNN]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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