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Columbia Public Schools says it ‘will expect’ students to wear masks; city works on requirement

COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)

The local health department is drawing up an ordinance that would require people to wear masks in public places in Columbia, while Columbia Public Schools will expect students to wear masks this fall.

CPS sent a letter to families Monday that said in light of the city's work on rules to require face coverings, the district will expect students to wear them in the fall.

The mayor of Columbia announced Friday that he wanted the city to draft an ordinance as COVID-19 cases continue to increase. The county counted 34 new cases between Friday and Sunday.

Mayor Brian Treece posted on Twitter that he asked City Manager John Glascock to draft an ordinance for the city council to consider. Treece called it a "simple public health initiative" to possibly slow the spread of COVID-19 as infections continue to rise.

Scott Clardy the Columbia and Boone County Health Department Assistant Director said that as more research has been done about COVID-19 the health department does think mask-wearing would be beneficial.

Treece said he did not know when the ordinance would be ready or when a vote could take place on it, but Clardy said the health department will have the ordinance complete for the council's next meeting is scheduled for July 6.

Clardy said exactly what the ordinance entails and how total enforcement will be tackled is still in the works.

ABC 17 News asked why a mask-wearing requirement is just now being discussed and why it wasnt enforced earlier?

"We're seeing that when you take a large enough sampling of the population you get much better data," Clardy said. "So I think the the answer to that question is we're more convinced now that based on the science that the mass are helpful in decreasing screening fires.”

CPS had said masks were optional before the mayor's announcement, citing the difficulties of enforcing a mask requirement in schools.

On Monday, Superintendent Peter Stiepleman said the district changed its wording from saying officials "strongly encourage" masks to saying they "will expect" students to wear face coverings. CPS leaders said in the letter to families that officials understand some exceptions have to be made.

City of Columbia spokesman Steve Sapp said Monday that the Columbia/Boone County health department and city attorneys are working on a draft, "but it is still in the early draft stages as some research is needed."

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Boone County have doubled in the month of June. The Columbia/Boone County Health Department reported 334 cases on Friday, up from the 150 cases the county had on June 1. The county's seven-day average of new daily cases has also grown to its highest point since the pandemic began, by Friday averaging 11 new cases a day.

Treece said the growth rate concerned him, and hoped masks worn in public could help slow the spread of the virus. He pointed to the growing number of young people contracting the virus in the county, some who may not show any symptoms of having COVID-19.

"A lot of people, particularly in that 18- to 24-year-old bracket, may not know that they're positive and may be spreading that throughout our community," Treece said Friday in an interview with ABC 17 News.

Laws on public face covering are being implemented in several cities, including Kansas City, as the country sets records for daily new COVID-19 cases.

Mark Wakefield, University of Missouri Health Care's associate chief medical officer, said last week that he encourages people to wear masks, even those who do not have underlying health conditions.

"Although it's less likely that you will get very sick, there are young people who have died from COVID ... without other medical conditions," Wakefield said.

Wakefield said there's still a lot about COVID-19 that medical professionals don't know about.

"That's one of the challenges," Wakefield said. 'We're learning so rapidly that something that we thought was true, a month ago, is now disproven."

Federal health officials say cloth masks reduce the number of droplets people leave behind in the air or on surfaces when they sneeze or talk. Scientists believe COVID-19 is spread through these droplets.

Wakefield said the effectiveness of masks is still unknown when it comes to protecting the mask-wearing from getting infected, but it is certain that if an asymptomatic carrier wears a mask they would be protecting other people.

He said people have to balance living life, as they need employment, education, groceries and social interaction. But people also need to modify their behaviors, he said.

Wakefield also mentioned that one of the disadvantages of a mask is people not wearing them correctly and continuously touching their face to adjust their mask.

Treece said he does not want to see the county move backward in its re-opening plan. The county and city relaxed crowd size and building capacity limits last week.

"We can't continue on that path and still expect MU to come back, to have parents feel comfortable sending their kids to school," Treece said. "We have to take reasonable and responsible steps now to slow the spread of this virus."

Stiepleman told parents during an online meeting Saturday that a city mask ordinance would require face coverings in schools, as well.

CPS worked with the Columbia/ Boone County health department before making a determination about masks.

CPS spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said the district cannot require masks on its own because of the difficulty in enforcing such rules. But many parents have said just recommending masks is not enough.

Stiepleman said CPS has delayed the deadline for when families have to decide whether students will learn online or in classrooms in the fall to July 6. Saturday's online meeting showed there was still a lot to discuss, Stiepleman said.

Stiepleman said he wants families to understand they can resubmit their enrollment questionnaire and the system will acknowledge and recognize the last submission.

Stay up-to-date on this developing story here and on ABC 17 News at 5 p.m. & 6 p.m.

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Amber Tabeling

Amber Tabeling

Amber joined the ABC 17 News team as a multimedia journalist in December 2019. She was a student-athlete at Parkland College and Missouri Valley College. She hails from a small town in Illinois.

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