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Missouri Recommends Kids Stay In School Even If They've Been Exposed To Coronavirus

Cheerleaders at Center High School masked up to watch their team play earlier this season.
Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Cheerleaders at Center High School masked up to watch their team play earlier this season.

Kansas City won’t follow the state recommendation and once again called on Gov. Mike Parson to issue a statewide mask mandate. Parson cited his election last week as proof that Missourians don’t support a mask requirement.

Kansas City officials openly refused to follow new guidance from Missouri Gov. Mike Parson Thursday that allows fewer K-12 students to quarantine after being exposed to the coronavirus at school.

Schools in the city won’t be allowed to follow the state recommendations, partly because asymptomatic kids could spread the virus, said Dr. Rex Archer, Kansas City’s Health Department Director. The guidance was “counterintuitive” and would weaken the city’s ability to slow the spread of the coronavirus, he said.

The Missouri National Education Association president called the guidance “indefensible” and Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas immediately pushed back on the state changes. Lucas cited CDC guidance that says people should quarantine if they’ve been within six feet, for 15 minutes or more, of someone who has coronavirus.

“We're on the verge of hospitals needing to triage and not accept patients because they can't staff the beds,” Archer said. “Yes, it's true that most of the kids and adults in the schools are actually getting the virus out in the community, but any spread [of the virus] in the school hurts us on multiple levels.”

Lucas said the city would “respectfully” refuse to recommend that schools follow the guidance because “... there are known cases of transmission in our state to students, teachers, and staff inside of school buildings.”

In a press conference Thursday, Parson again reiterated his opposition to a statewide mask mandate and cited the Missourians who voted for him in November’s election as proof of his decision. His opponent, Nicole Galloway, campaigned heavily on a mask mandate.

“The people believe in what we’re doing, the approach we’re taking in the state of Missouri,” Parson said. “I think that was proven just a few days ago.”

The recommendations released Thursday by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Department of Health and Senior Services apply to schools with a mask mandate. When both the infected person and the close contact were properly wearing a mask, the agency recommended the close contact continue going to school instead of quarantining.

Students who have COVID-19 symptoms will still have to quarantine under state guidance.

“The dangerous choice to allow people exposed to COVID-19 to remain in a school building jeopardizes children, educators, and families,” Missouri National Education Association President Phil Murray said in a statement. “The likely irreparable harm to the health of students, our colleagues, and families compels us to speak out.”

The state’s change in guidelines reflected the “significant unintended consequences” of large numbers of student and staff members being asked to quarantine, according to Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Margie Vandeven.

“Quarantined students may have difficulty interacting with their teachers to get the support they need as many of those educators are also trying to teach their students still in-person in their classrooms at the same time,” Vandeven said. “Now our teachers have been working tirelessly to meet the needs of all students, wherever they are, but quite frankly, it's exhausting and it is not sustainable.”

The guidance was based, in part, on advice from Dr. Rachel Orscheln, a professor of pediatrics and infectious diseases at Washington University.

“What we are seeing is that a large number of students are being quarantined related to this [COVID-19] exposure, but as we follow the data we find that there are very few secondary cases developing in those students,” Orscheln said in a news conference Thursday.

Archer said the new recommendations could be a way to encourage more school districts to institute a mask mandate since the guidelines don’t apply to schools without a mask mandate.

“The governor needs to mandate [masks] statewide. And this is a way, maybe, of getting those rural school districts to start mandating mask-wearing,” Archer said. “However, in no way shape or form do we believe that it's safe, just because you have a mask on, to be within three feet of other folks.”

Aviva Okeson-Haberman was the Missouri government and politics reporter at KCUR 89.3.
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