As the fight for school mask warrants continues and the state attorney general files lawsuits to block them, Missouri’s new director of health had a clear message Thursday: masks work.
“I’m counting (on) the CDC experts on this. Everything I’ve read, everything I’ve seen: masks work, ”Donald Kauerauf, director of the Department of Health and Seniors’ Services, told reporters on Thursday.
Kauerauf’s comments come amid an increase in new COVID-19 cases statewide as students have returned to school in person in recent weeks.
Thusday, seven-day average of new cases increased to 2,376 per day – an increase of 17.5% compared to the previous week. In the past seven days, just over 29% of lab-confirmed COVID cases have been among children.
During the summer of 2020, about 8,200 children in Missouri contracted the virus, according to the Missouri Hospital Association. During the same period this year, nearly 34,000 children in Missouri contracted the virus – a more than four-fold increase, the association said.
The increase in cases in children has led to an increase in students in quarantine. In the first week of school in St. Louis County, at least 429 cases of COVID among students and staff led to 1,318 quarantines. St. Louis County Public Health Department noted that the actual number is probably higher.
“With the rise in positivity rates among adolescents, it makes sense to wear a mask,” Kauerauf said. “Again, this is a decision you have to make, knowing that some people cannot wear a mask.”
With the rise in positivity rates among teens, it makes sense to wear a mask.
– Donald Kauerauf, Director of the Department of Health and Elderly Services
Kauerauf said the state health department would take a “fresh look” at the state’s contribution to schools and revise its guidelines to provide clear information “so we can get out of some of this. confusion “.
Mitigation measures have been largely left to school districts and local health agencies to determine for themselves. The local control approach has led to a range of responses, some districts making masks mandatory and stepping up testing, while others are making these mitigation measures optional – and even challenging a federal order to wear masks on school buses.
It’s unclear what the specific guidelines may be, but Kauerauf said the department hopes to share “clear ideas” that keep children in school while allowing residents to customize them to meet the needs of their community.
“One size doesn’t fit all,” he said, “but we have to deliver part of the baseline. “
He stressed the importance of in-person learning, noting that state-standardized test scores have declined amid the pandemic.
“It’s a shame that this epidemic has gotten to a point where it has landed on children. They have nothing to do with it, ”Kauerauf said. “Their goal is that they have to be in a classroom.”
While Kauerauf stressed the importance of local decision-making, he declined to speak about the impact that new laws enacted in the last legislative session have had on contributing to the spread of the virus.
After leaving mitigation measures in the hands of local authorities for most of the pandemic, lawmakers in Missouri passed a new law that limits the authority and scope of public health orders aimed at curbing the spread of a contagious disease. It’s the same law, Attorney General Eric Schmitt used as a basis for prosecution challenging local mask warrants, including in schools.
In his lawsuit against Columbia Public Schools, the attorney general’s office argued that masks are unnecessary, due to the “low risk of death for children”, “low risk of hospitalization for children” and “low risk of spreading children” COVID-19.
When asked if he was concerned that the new limits on the authority of public health officials would exacerbate the spread of the Delta variant, Kauerauf said “this is the one haunting me.”
However, he then shared his concerns about the broader politicization of public health amid the pandemic, and did not directly address the impact of the new law on Missouri.
“It should be a concern for all of us – this loss of respect,” he said. “We cannot roll back a decades-long public health system for all the laughing things in the world. We need to renew our confidence and our spirit and get back to that confidence we had before COVID. “
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