JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMIZ)
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on Wednesday gave reassurances about the state's ability to monitor and fight the COVID-19 pandemic as many schools prepare for a return to classes.
Parson, speaking at his only COVID-19 briefing of the week, said the state is now better prepared to handle the current increase in cases than it was when the pandemic began. The remarks came during a briefing that focused in part on the reopening of schools.
The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education issued updated guidance for reopening Monday as schools continue to decide whether and when students will return to in-person classes.
The guidance includes information about how schools should react to positive tests of students and staff.
Parson said he has been meeting with school administrators around the state, including the Jefferson City School District. Most of those administrators have said parents and students are ready for a return to in-person classes, Parson said.
Administrators also said teachers are ready to return to schools, according to Parson.
Watch a replay of the briefing in the player below.
"The school administrators are doing a really good job trying to bring these kids back in a safe environment, trying to protect the teachers and everyone else,” Parson said.
However, he said the school year will be different for districts across the state, with rural districts more apt to return to in-person classes than urban districts where COVID-19 activity is heavier.
Those decisions will be left to local leaders, Parson said.
"There is no one size fits all in the schools. Every school district will look differently based on its unique needs," Parson said.
Schools are having conversations about reopening as COVID-19 cases continue to grow statewide. Columbia Public Schools is revisiting its plan to start in-person classes Aug. 25 after a sustained surge in cases in Boone County.
A vote on the plan is expected Monday.
Parson and Department of Health and Senior Services Director Randall Williams said the case numbers are concerning but are primarily being driven by positive results in younger, more healthy people.
The state is also better prepared to fight the virus now than it was five months ago when the pandemic began, Parson and Williams said.
Parson acknowledged that younger people are less vulnerable to severe complications from COVID-19 but said they can still spread the novel coronavirus.
"Be responsible, protect yourself, but also protect others. We need everyone to take this seriously, no matter how old you are," Parson said.
Williams described COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations as steady. Hospitalizations have remained at about 900, leaving significant capacity to treat more patients, he said.
Reopening schools will require quick notification of positive cases, Williams said. The state is working on a system to ensure districts get word early when students test positive, he said.
Parson said the state is also working on waivers to increase the substitute teaching pool, perhaps by incorporating more education students and retired teachers.
Williams, who has regularly put on masks during these briefings to encourage their use, said he supports local authorities' decisions if they implement local mask orders. The state remains without any orders requiring masks or limiting business activities.
Missouri hit a daily case record last Thursday with more than 2,000 new COVID-19 cases. Parson said the state finished a backlog of tests it had been working on for weeks the next day.
That backlog helped drive the record numbers seen over the past few weeks, he said. The state has recorded about 1,200 new cases each of the past two days.
Parson again pushed local officials to spend CARES Act money on testing and contact tracing, saying those things are a key part of the strategy to beat COVID-19.