Missouri’s relaxed COVID-19 public school protocols have been flatly rejected by the state’s largest school districts.
Gov. Mike Parson announced on Thursday that Missouri public school students and teachers no longer need to quarantine for 14 days after being exposed to COVID-19 if they wear a face mask and do not experience coronavirus symptoms.
“If a district or charter school has a mask mandate in place and all individuals are wearing masks correctly, as long as they do not begin to show symptoms, those close contacts may continue to attend school in person,” Parson said.
In an October letter to Parson, 20 northwest Missouri school superintendents called for a change in the 14-day quarantine policy for students and teachers diagnosed with the disease. Superintendents said they’ve been struggling with maintaining adequate staffing many teachers quarantined.
Parson said the relaxation will keep students in school, teachers teaching and allow parents to work without leaving a sick child at home.
“Schools that are consistently implementing COVID-19 mitigation strategies remain among the safest places for our students,” he said. “We believe this change will lead to more schools encouraging proper mask usage, helping to further protect students and educators from the spread of the virus.”
Missouri Department of Elementary & Secondary Education (DESE) Commissioner Dr. Margie Vandeven, who introduced the new guidance, said school mask mandates will remain.
“Under the updated guidance, proper mask-wearing may now prevent individuals from being identified as close contacts in K-12 schools that have implemented a mask mandate,” Vandeven said. “This means that if both individuals at school – the person diagnosed with COVID-19 and the person exposed to the positive case – have masks on and are wearing them correctly, the individual exposed does not need to quarantine.”
Iowa, Nebraska, and Wyoming have installed similar guidelines without an increase in school transmission rates, she added.
St. Louis Children’s Hospital Division of Infectious Disease Director Dr. Rachel Orscheln said it is “inevitable” children will test positive for the disease.
“However,” she added, “we have learned that, in schools where students and staff are always wearing masks and practicing physical distancing, this virus does not spread as easily as it does in other places.”
The new guidelines drew immediate rejections from local government officials across the state, most notably in Kansas City and St. Louis urban/suburban areas.
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said area schools will continue to comply with local county health department and federal Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) protocols.
“Based upon the advice of our Health Director and given the increasing uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 in our community, we respectfully cannot recommend schools in Kansas City follow the updated non-quarantine guidance shared from Jefferson City today,” Lucas said in a Thursday statement.
“Masks continue to be one of the best ways to slow the spread of this virus,” he continued, “and I hope the governor’s acknowledgment of their benefit will encourage more to wear them. Still, masks are not a substitute for proper quarantine measures in schools or elsewhere – particularly as we’ve seen a concerning spike in cases over the past several months.”
The St. Louis County Health Department said local schools will continue to follow CDC guidelines.
“Schools in St. Louis County have seen significant transmissions of COVID-19 among teachers and students,” St. Louis County spokesman Christopher Ave said Thursday. “Cases and hospitalizations in our region are surging. Now is not the time to weaken our quarantine policies.”
Nearby Boone County’s Health Department also confirmed it will pass on the state’s guidance.
“Weakening our quarantine guidelines in schools could reduce the effectiveness of one of our best mitigation strategies to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our community,” it said in a statement.
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