KCMO, Jackson County health departments won't follow new Missouri schools guidance

Posted at 12:32 PM, Nov 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-13 18:45:26-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Hours after Missouri Gov. Mike Parson announced new COVID-19 quarantine guidance for schools, the Kansas City, Missouri, Health Department said that it would not be instructing schools to follow the updated statewide recommendations.

Jackson County issued similar guidance, pushing back against Parson's suggested guidelines later Thursday afternoon.

Dr. Rex Archer, director of the KCMO Health Department, said in a tweet that the department has reported more cases of COVID-19 in children under 10 in the first two weeks of November than in all of September.

“Staying with (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the KCMOHD will not be changing our quarantine requirements,” Archer said in the tweet, which linked to a statement from the Missouri Center for Public Health Excellence.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said in a statement that the city will not recommend that schools follow the new guidance related to quarantine periods in schools.

"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 the emailed statement. "Masks continue to be one of the best ways to slow the spread of this virus, 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 Jackson County Health Department joined the opposition chorus later Thursday — citing the prevalence of community spread, the tenuous situation with local hospitals and current CDC guidance, from which Parson's guidance strays significantly.

The Jackson County Health Department strongly agrees that vigilant and comprehensive mask wearing will reduce the risk of transmission. However, recent guidance issues by the state of Missouri does not currently align with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In addition, the Kansas City region is experiencing uncontrolled community transmission — with serious implications to the regional health system and ability of local public health practitioners to effectively trace and investigate cases.

With these facts in mind, the Jackson County Health Department will maintain current quarantine and isolation practices. As always, we will constantly evaluate these practices as new data and scientific consensus is released.
Jackson County Health Department

North Kansas City Schools, which has warned families that it may need to transition to remote learning because of staffing shortages, said later Thursday that it will continue with current protocols at this time as it works in coordination with the Clay County and Kansas City, Missouri, health departments.

"We will not bring anyone back who is currently staying at home due to exposure," the district said in a tweet.

In its statement, the Missouri Center for Public Health Excellence, a group of public health professionals, said that health departments and schools should carefully consider whether to implement the new guidelines, calling them “less stringent than those recommended by CDC.”

The CDC guidance says that anyone who has had “close contact” — considered as within 6 feet for 15 total minutes or more — with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 should stay home for 14 days, regardless of whether they were both wearing a mask at the time.

The new Missouri guidance, which Parson introduced Thursday, says that close contacts in schools do not need to quarantine if both people were wearing a mask and the close contact does not show symptoms. Parson said the new guidance was meant to limit the number of students and staff who need to quarantine, which has caused staffing issues at districts across the state and in the Kansas City area.

The Missouri National Education Association called the new guidance "dangerous" and said it would jeopardize the health of students, educators and families.

"Permitting persons exposed to COVID-19 to remain in contact with students and educators is indefensible. It will put more strain on the nurses and doctors in our local hospitals working to save lives. Now is the time to focus on implementing more aggressive mitigation strategies such as increased ventilation, reduced class size to enable social distancing, virtual education, higher quality PPE, and hiring additional staff to aid in sanitization. We call on local school boards and superintendents to stand with our students and educators and reject this guidance."
Missouri NEA

The KCMO Health Department works with schools on COVID-19 guidance in Kansas City Public Schools, the Center School District, the Hickman C-1 School District and parts of North Kansas City Schools.

On Friday, health department officials in Platte and Clay counties said they would consider the revised guidance but would not make immediate changes in their recommendations to schools.

Cass County did not immediately return requests for comment.