KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Missouri Gov. Mike Parson announced changes Thursday in guidance for how teachers, staff and students will be classified in possible exposures to a COVID-19 case.
During his weekly remarks, Parson acknowledged the recent spike in cases in the state has placed strain on schools, and after working with officials at the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Missouri Department of Health and Services, released guidance that clears the way for those in close contact to a COVID-19 case can continue to report to school.
The new guidance for schools states that, in schools with mask mandates, appropriately wearing a mask can now prevent individuals from being identified as a close contact and those individuals can continue going to school if they do not show symptoms of COVID-19.
The governor cited low transmission seen in schools across the state when proper COVID-19 protocols are in place and advice from a leading pediatric infectious disease researcher at Washington University and St. Louis Children's Hospital, Dr. Rachel Orscheln.
Orscheln said that social distancing, cohorting, hand sanitation practices and mask-wearing are helping prevent transmission of COVID-19 in schools and that the experts will continue to monitor and adapt advice.
Dr. Margie Vandeven, the state education commissioner, said that the amount of students and staff having to quarantine because of being considered in close contact with COVID-19 is causing significant problems. She cited staffing issues as well as students missing opportunities for social and emotional growth in the classroom.
She said that Iowa and Nebraska have put similar practices in place and have not seen increased transmission of the virus in schools.
Parson added that when students have to stay home in quarantine, it prevents parents from going to work and that he hopes the change will help healthcare workers who are already experiencing strained staffing across the state.
“We know that COVID-19 is not going away soon, so it is important that we continue to evaluate the guidance we’re issuing at the state level to make sure our procedures are sustainable for the next several months,” Parson said in a release announcing the new guidelines. “We have been working hard with DESE and DHSS to find a solution that allows us to continue providing the high-quality education our students deserve while still keeping them, our teachers, and all school staff members safe.”