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Columbia, Boone County leaders urge responsibility in COVID-19 fight as school year approaches

COLUMBIA Mo. (KMIZ)

City, health and educational leaders urged personal responsibility Tuesday to help slow the spread of COVID-19 as schools welcome students back to class.

Columbia Mayor Brian Treece, Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Peter Stiepleman and city/county health director Stephanie Browning were among the officials who spoke at a Columbia City Hall news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic and return to classes Tuesday.

The officials presented a unified front in which they explained the area's current status and the rules in place to help bring down the number of new COVID-19 cases.

The University of Missouri plans to resume classes this month and CPS students will head back Sept. 8. On Monday the Columbia Board of Education also voted to allow CPS to work with a hybrid class model in which students are in class some days and learning online other days.

Watch a replay of the news conference in the player below.

Stiepleman on Tuesday said the district now has three options, including five days a week in schools or all online. Which model the schools use depends on the number of new cases in the county, with fewer than 10 cases per 10,000 people over a 14-day period triggering a return to five-day-a-week in school learning.

"We want our kids back in school. There’s no argument about that," Stiepleman said, adding that health and safety must be major considerations.

CPS had earlier this summer offered parents a choice of five days a week in class or all online. However, Stiepleman said the increased rate of novel coronavirus infection has changed the plan.

"What is different is that March and April and May and June revealed really promising data for our community …. and July was a very different story," Stiepleman said. "And as July continued to march along we started to see very much increased rates and it began to worry us."

University of Missouri Chancellor Mun Choi highlighted the steps MU is taking to lower the risk of COVID-19, including an app through which students and staff will check themselves for symptoms and report that information to the school.

Social distancing will be required in classes, 65 percent of which will be hybrid online and in-person classes, Choi said. The remaining 35 percent of classes will be online only.

Enrollment is expected to be higher than it was in the spring, Choi said.

Treece pleaded for college students to be responsible and take steps to stop the virus. He urged them to resist going to house parties and to be responsible at bars and restaurants.

Browning said the key to getting public life back to a more normal state is personal action.

"We need to do more. The most important piece of the puzzle are the residents of this community," Browning said. "Each of us as individuals have the power to protect ourselves, and others, from this virus by making small choices every day."

Those choices include using social distancing and face coverings along with good hand hygiene, Browning said.

The city last week announced it was modifying the current health order to include new restrictions. Among them is that bar and restaurant customers must remain seated except when entering or leaving the building or going to the restroom. When they aren't seated, they must wear a mask.

The modified order is set to expire Aug. 31 but can be extended if needed.

The city of Columbia also has an ordinance in place requiring masks in places where social distancing is not possible.

Browning highlighted the $1.8 million from the CARES Act that the Boone County Commission allocated for the health department. The money will be used in part to hire more contact tracers and case investigators.

Check back here and watch ABC 17 News at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. for updates.

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Matthew Sanders

Matthew Sanders is the digital content director at ABC 17 News.

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