SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Health departments around Missouri are meeting to discuss the state’s new quarantine guidance in K-12 schools. Ozarks First reporter David Chasanov received an update from both Greene and Taney counties today.
Governor Parson’s new recommendation says if two people come in contact with each other while one is positive for the virus, the other person shouldn’t be required to quarantine if both people were properly wearing masks. The Springfield-Greene County Health Department (SGCHD) is working with local school districts and other public health agencies to understand what the guidance means.
“Our options are open at this point,” SGCHD Public Health Information Administrator Kathryn Wall said. “We are just really in a fact-finding phase of this response. We want to understand the challenges that quarantine presents to schools, but also what would those implications be if any kind of change was implemented? At this point in time I can’t really point to any one response one way or the other because we really are just looking for an understanding of the implications and the impact of such a decision.”
Wall says lots of questions are being asked in the meetings between schools and public health agencies:
- What would this change look like?
- How would it address the needs of schools?
- What would schools require as part of this process?
What’s also being discussed is what the change could mean for students and their families, along with staff.
“Certainly the implications of what this will mean for families is absolutely a consideration,” Wall said. “That absolutely has a part. When you’re talking about anything that would impact schools, you’re talking about decisions that have wide-ranging implications for families, employers, schools themselves or the staff of the schools. So, those are all things that we have to take into consideration as we consider these changes.”
SGCHD is also researching what COVID-19 transmission looks like in classrooms, and what impact this change could have on the rest of the community.
“In public health we do value data-based decision-making,” Wall said. “We are collecting that information, but that is certainly something that would form our decision as well.”
Wall says no decision has been made yet.
“One thing that I want to make sure people understand is as of right now, nothing has changed with quarantine, either in schools or the broader community,” Wall said. “Until a decision is made one way or the other, our current quarantine guidance still stands. Quarantine has been an incredibly important part of the public health response to COVID-19. So, we do need people to take that seriously.”
The Taney County Health Department is meeting with local school districts. It shared the following statement with Ozarks First:
“Taney County school districts, in conjunction with the Taney County Health Department, are closely reviewing Governor Parson’s announcement on modification to quarantine students/staff who are appropriately masked in K-12 classrooms. A decision will be made next week as to potential changes, if any, made to existing quarantine practices.
Current protocols will remain in place until the review is complete.”
At the moment, both health departments say if you have been within six feet of someone who tested positive for COVID-19 for more than 15 minutes, you are required to quarantine for two weeks.
“The reason why we do that is because it can take up to two weeks for that exposure to result in illness,” Wall said. “That infectious time period lasts that amount of time. To really have an understanding of whether that person did in fact contract COVID-19, that two-week window is our safest bet of whether transmission occurred.”
Above all else, Wall stressed the importance of COVID-19 prevention.
“We know that things like washing your hands, wearing your mask and watching your distance are such powerful tools against COVID-19,” Wall said. “So, we continue to urge people to practice those safety guidelines.”