COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
New state guidance that loosens quarantine rules for school students would come with difficulties in Columbia Public Schools, the district's top official said Thursday.
And Boone County health leaders criticized the new guidance, saying it could potentially weaken a key strategy in the fight against coronavirus at a time when case rates are surging.
Gov. Mike Parson and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education leaders unveiled the new guidance during Parson's COVID-19 briefing Thursday morning. They cited current quarantine guidelines -- in which students exposed to coronavirus are kept at home -- as unsustainable.
The new rules allow students who would previously be considered close contacts to continue in-school learning so as long as they were wearing a mask when they were exposed to coronavirus. The guidance stipulates that if a student was not properly wearing a mask when they were exposed, they will still have to quarantine for 14 days.
Watch the state briefing in the player below.
Stiepleman told ABC 17 News that CPS is aware of the new guidance and examining it. However, it could be difficult to implement in CPS because of a lack of space to allow physical distancing, and because students must remove their masks to eat in their classrooms. The district also provides students with mask breaks.
Stiepleman said levels of government are giving different advice to schools.
"We are in a position now where we must determine which entities – local health, CDC or state government – we should follow with respect to community health and contact tracing," Stiepleman said. "It’s a difficult place to be in. We will look at how these new guidelines may help or hinder our operations moving forward."
CPS elementary students returned to classrooms Oct. 19 after starting the year Sept. 8 online. The Columbia Board of Education voted Monday to take elementary education back online starting next week citing case rates and the number of staff in quarantine.
Middle and high school students will continue to learn online.
Record coronavirus case rates and hospitalizations prompted the school board's move. The county has 1,122 active cases and more than 1,700 people in quarantine because of exposure to coronavirus. A record 149 patients with COVID-19 were being treated in Boone County hospitals as of Wednesday afternoon.
The Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services said in a statement that it will continue to follow CDC guidance saying that people exposed to coronavirus should be in quarantine.
"Any future operational changes will be announced, but there are no changes to the Boone County guidance at this time," the department said.
The Southern Boone School District in Ashland is also taking a cautious approach to the new guidelines, school officials said.
The district said it has not made a final decision on adopting the new guidelines, saying weakened quarantine guidelines could hurt efforts to slow down the coronavirus.
"We cannot ignore the risk of a student or staff member spreading the virus to family members or other members of our community that could result in hospitalization or death," Southern Boone officials said.