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Kansas City Council reinstates mask mandate for schools amid surge in COVID-19 cases 

The mask order is set to expire on Feb. 3.
Carlos Moreno
The mask order is set to expire on Feb. 3.

The ordinance was introduced by Mayor Quinton Lucas, who said it was important to ensure schools stay open for in-person learning. 

As COVID-19 cases continue climbing in the Kansas City metro — and with rising concerns over keeping schools open for in-person learning — the city council voted Thursday to reinstate mask mandates for students, faculty and staff in Kansas City school buildings.

The ordinance was introduced in Thursday’s council meeting by Mayor Quinton Lucas and was passed 10-2 with same-day adoption. 1st District Councilwoman Heather Hall and 3rd District-at-Large Councilman Brandon Ellington voted against the ordinance.

The school mask requirement goes into effect starting Monday, Jan. 9, and lasts until Feb. 3.

The ordinance requires masks to be worn by all children, faculty, staff and visitors inside a K-12 school building or school bus in Kansas City. There is no citywide mask mandate currently in place. The mask requirement applies to all schools in the city except those operated by a religious institution.

The ordinance comes as COVID-19 cases surge in the metro, driven by the omicron and delta variants of the coronavirus. In the last week, 5,000 Kansas City residents have tested positivefor COVID-19, an all-time weekly high. And young people ages 5 to 24 are seeing the biggest increases compared to other age groups, Frank Thompson, interim director of the Kansas City Health Department, told the council.

Lucas said the decision to introduce a school mask requirement followed a meeting earlier this week with school leaders about COVID-19 mitigation strategies and heightened concern about the increasing number of cases and its impact on school operations. The goal with the mask requirement, Lucas said, is to ensure students can learn in-person and schools can stay open.

“One of my goals, and I think a goal that many people share, is that we keep our schools open regularly for in-person instruction, that we don’t have to go to the virtual side of things,” Lucas said at a news conference. “And part of that is actually having mitigation strategies that will be effective in helping us do so.”

The skyrocketing case rate has stirred alarm among local doctors and health experts. Earlier this week they warned that ICU beds are filling up and hospitals are finding themselves short-staffed as more health care workers test positive, making it difficult to care for patients.

The city’s previous mandate requiring masks in schools expired Jan. 1, as many students and families across the city prepared for a new semester. Some school districts in Kansas City — including North Kansas City Schools, Liberty Public Schools and the Park Hill School District — announced they would not require masks after Kansas City’s mandate expired. A reinstated mask mandate means students and faculty at those schools will be required to wear masks indoors.

Before the ordinance passed the council today, Kansas City Public Schools still required masks in its buildings, regardless of vaccination status, as part of its COVID mitigation protocols.

Mask protocols vary in school districts across the Kansas City metro. Across the state line, Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools still requires masks for students, staff and visitors. In Johnson County, masks are required in school buildings for grades pre-K to 6th grade.

The new Kansas City school masking requirement comes after North Kansas City voted to extend its school mask mandate to Feb. 5.

As KCUR’s Missouri politics and government reporter, it’s my job to show how government touches every aspect of our lives. I break down political jargon so people can easily understand policies and how it affects them. My work is people-forward and centered on civic engagement and democracy. I hold political leaders and public officials accountable for the decisions they make and their impact on our communities. Follow me on Twitter @celisa_mia or email me at celisa@kcur.org.
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