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Doctor cautions Missouri school districts against lifting mask requirements


A doctor cautioned local school districts from ending their mask mandates too soon during a webinar for educators Wednesday.

The Department of Health and Senior Services and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education held a webinar for school leaders, school nurses and local health officials to keep local leaders informed with COVID-19 updates pertaining to K-12 schools and answer questions.

Several districts have relaxed their coronavirus precautions, with some ending mask requirements. Dr. Rachel Orscheln, associate professor of pediatrics and infectious diseases at Washington University, cautioned against that approach.

"We are certainly not there at this moment so anyone who's thinking about relaxing that guidance before the end of the year is advised against it," Orscheln said.

A key topic in the discussion was vaccinations for staff and students. Orscheln said there are hopes to have most people immune to the virus by immunity and vaccination so that an infected individual will have a hard time finding people who are susceptible.

Columbia Public Schools announced some relaxed guidelines on Monday. Fewer days will be required for quarantines. Currently, the guidelines have close contacts quarantining for 14 days. As of Monday, that will be lowered to 10 days. Additionally, masks will no longer be required outdoors.

State education department spokeswoman Mallory McGowin said in an interview that state education leaders support small steps in the right direction such as those CPS has taken based on talks with public health officials.

"I think this is a great example in Columbia of all those local health officials working together to continue to offer the safest plan for students and staff to be learning in person as they finish up the school year," McGowin said.

CPS also began to vaccinate students at high schools age 16 and older this week. New state health department director Robert Knodell said during the webinar that the CDC confirmed approval to vaccine children down to age 12 could come as soon as next week.

Some other school districts have lifted all COVID-19 restrictions. The Camdenton R-III school board voted April 12 to have masks and social distancing be voluntary, and all students and staff who had been quarantining due to exposure at that time were allowed to return to school immediately after the vote.

Morgan County R-II also changed some restrictions by removing its student mask mandate on May 1.

Superintendent Steve Barns said the district has had several weeks with no cases in the schools and a small number in the community. How the rest of the year goes will tell the district how to proceed this summer, he said.

Coronavirus precautions are also being relaxed outside K-12 schools. The University of Missouri said this week it is no longer requiring masks outdoors. Columbia and Boone County officials gathered this week to say local health orders will be allowed to expire May 12.

Article Topic Follows: Education

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Chanel Porter

Chanel joined ABC 17 News in January 2021 after graduating from Penn State University. She enjoys traveling and a daily iced coffee.


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