KC-area health directors urge continued use of masks in schools

AP Poll Virus Outbreak Schools
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Posted at 4:29 PM, May 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-21 17:29:26-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Regional health directors from across the Kansas City region penned a letter urging school districts to keep mask mandates in place.

The letter comes after at least three districts — Blue Springs, Lee’s Summit and Oak Grove — ended the use of mandatory face masks effective this week after Jackson County altered its guidelines for mask wearing.

The county’s decision came after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced May 13 that fully vaccinated individuals no longer needed to wear masks.

The CDC clarified Saturday that it recommended masks continue to be worn in schools, where no children have yet had a chance to get fully vaccinated.

Blue Springs and Lee’s Summit announced the decision to change its requirements later Saturday, and Oak Grove made its announcement Sunday.

Children 12 years and older have been eligible to receive the two-dose Pfizer vaccine since May 10, but there is a three-week wait time between doses and it takes two weeks after the second dose for a patient to be considered fully immunized.

Someone who received their first dose May 10 wouldn’t be considered fully vaccinated until June 14 at the earliest.

“It’s great news that children ages 12 and up can now receive a COVID-19 vaccine, but kids under age 12 aren’t eligible yet,” Dr. Jennifer Watts, chief emergency management medical officer, with Children’s Mercy Hospital, said in a statement. “Until children are fully vaccinated, it’s important that they continue to wear a mask, along with taking other infection-control measures, to prevent the spread of the virus.”

Dr. Rex Archer, director of the Kansas City, Missouri, Health Department, credited masking and social-distancing practices with helping keep the number of cases in local districts relatively low.

“We know that wearing a mask works,” Archer said in a statement. “Let’s end the school year safely by masking up in our schools.”

Wyandotte County is the only county in the immediate metropolitan area that still has a mask mandate in place. County health officials there said vaccination rates remain too low to justify removing it at this time.

“We all want to get back to normal, but we can’t let our guard down too soon,” Juliann Van Liew, director of the Unified Government Public Health Department, said in a statement. “If your child is eligible, please consider getting them vaccinated or talk with a health care provider if you have questions. Until your child is fully vaccinated, please continue to help them take precautions like wearing a mask, distancing from others, frequently washing hands and staying home when sick."

The statement, which was released by the Mid-American Regional Council, came on behalf of county health leaders in Cass, Clay, Jackson, KCMO, Platte and Ray counties in Missouri along with Johnson, Leavenworth, Miami and Wyandotte counties in Kansas.

Blue Springs and Lee's Summit said Jackson County's decision to end mandatory mask-wearing prompted their decision to make masks optional within their districts with no mention of the broader CDC guidance as it relates to schools.

Both districts said they will not require masks again for the final week of school despite the new recommendation from area county public health officials.

Masks also will be optional during summer school in Blue Springs, which begins June 1.

Lee's Summit said it has communicated "our strong recommendation that unvaccinated individuals wear masks at school," but also has no plans to revert to mandatory mask-wearing.