JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. ( – Thursday, modifications to Missouri’s K-12 school reopening and operating guidance were announced.

Governor Mike Parson was joined by officials from the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) during a press conference Thursday morning to announce the modifications after large numbers of school students and staff members were quarantined in recent weeks across the state.

“We know that COVID-19 is not going away soon, so it is important that we continue to evaluate the guidance we’re issuing at the state level to make sure our procedures are sustainable for the next several months,” Governor Parson said. “We have been working hard with DESE and DHSS to find a solution that allows us to continue providing the high-quality education our students deserve while still keeping them, our teachers, and all school staff members safe.”

The new guidance stresses proper mask wearing may prevent people from being identified as close contacts in K-12 schools. According to the guidance, if two people wore masks and one tested positive for COVID-19 then the exposed individual will not need to quarantine as long as they do not show symptoms.

The move brought sharp criticism from St. Louis County's health department, saying now is not the time to loosen quarantine guidelines.

"I thought it was really good news that there was some guidelines that would change and allow us not to quarantine so many staff members and students. All we're doing is denying an education to these kids," said Fort Zumwalt superintendent, Dr. Bernard DeBray.

Anyone deemed a close contact should still quarantine for 14 days if the school does not require masks or if a mask was not worn by the person with the coronavirus or the person who was exposed.

“Given the high rates of COVID-19 in our communities, it is inevitable that some children and adolescents will test positive,” Dr. Rachel Orscheln, Associate Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Washington University and St. Louis Children’s Hospital, said. “We also know that some of these children will likely, at some point in their illness, be at school. However, we have learned that in schools where students and staff are always wearing masks and practicing physical distancing, this virus does not spread as easily as it does in other places where these strategies are not always used.”

In addition to encouraging mask wearing, officials said adequate social distancing and proper hand hygiene are important in combatting the spread of COVID-19.

"We are going to take our time to review those recommendations and guidelines. We're going to continue our work with local and regional health professionals. Currently it doesn't change our practices," said Rockwood School District superintendent, Dr. Mark Miles.

Gov. Parson said he is not considering a mask mandate for schools or the state.

The move brought sharp criticism from St. Louis County's health department, saying now is not the time to loosen quarantine guidelines. Their statement follows:

"We firmly hope this new guidance encourages mask wearing in schools in other areas of Missouri that haven’t documented cases of in-school transmission of COVID-19. Every part of the state is unique, but schools in St. Louis County have seen significant transmissions of COVID-19 among teachers and students. Cases and hospitalizations in our region are surging. Now is not the time to weaken our quarantine policies here in St. Louis County. Doing so would reduce the effectiveness of one of the most powerful tools we have to prevent spread. The advice also contravenes guidance from the CDC. For these reasons, we have no final decision on adopting the state’s recommendations and will continue to use our data to protect this community. That will remain our priority. If we have additional operational changes, we will announce them as well. But there are no changes to St. Louis County guidance at this moment."

To view the updated K-12 school guidance, click here.

Copyright 2020 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved

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