“The specific aims include describing and assessing the fidelity of mitigation strategies implemented by schools and the impact of these on secondary transmission,” Lisa Cox, a spokeswoman for DHSS, told The Missouri Times. “When there is a case identified in a participating school, contact tracing will be performed to identify close contacts who will then be followed for symptoms and will be offered testing at various time points to detect asymptomatic cases. The purpose of this project is to understand the impact of our mitigation strategies in school transmission which can then help to inform our quarantine procedures.“
The study will examine schools’ quarantine procedures, splitting subjects into two groups of students considered close contacts with a positive case. The first group will be allowed to continue attending school if they were properly wearing a mask at the time of contact. The second group will be required to quarantine for two weeks, regardless if the individual wore a mask during contact. Both groups will receive regular tests and contact tracing to measure further transmission rates.
DHSS defined “close contact” as coming within 6 feet of an individual who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 for at least 15 minutes throughout a 24 hour period starting from two days before the onset of the illness.
The study is a collaboration between DHSS, the CDC, and Truman University. The department said it pitched the idea.
School recruitment for the study is still underway, Cox said. Data collected from the project will be published by the CDC.
The state loosened protocols for quarantine in schools earlier this month. Under the new guidelines, students and staff at schools with a mask mandate who adhere to masking recommendations may be prevented from being identified as close contacts if they have been exposed to another individual who tests positive for COVID-19 and was also properly masked. Close contacts were required to quarantine under previous guidelines, leading to a large number of students and staff moving to remote work.
The change quickly received pushback from some local officials. St. Louis and Boone counties said they would not alter their quarantine procedures to match the new guidelines, and Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said masks were “not a substitute for proper quarantine measures in schools or elsewhere.”
Gov. Mike Parson defended the new guidance on “This Week in Missouri Politics,” saying “we’ve got way too many in quarantine that have not been affected by the virus itself, and we’ve got to address that issue.”
While many Missouri communities have passed mask requirements, there is no statewide mandate in place. Many schools have transitioned to virtual learning.