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Missouri schools should ‘consider’ face masks for older students in the fall, state says


When Missouri schools reconvene in the fall, students are advised to wear face masks, especially when in close contact with one another.

The suggestion comes from a document released Thursday from Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) containing guidance on reopening for the upcoming school year.

“Face coverings are an important strategy to reduce transmission of the novel coronavirus, primarily by reducing the spread of infection from the wearer to those around,” the guidance said. “Schools should consider how to best deliver training to students on the safe and proper use of masks, accounting for the training most appropriate for the age group.” 

“Face coverings should be considered for all age groups during periods when students are not cohorted or cannot physically distance,” the document said.

The state’s guidance suggested limiting the use of masks for younger students who may find them distracting but “encouraged” masks for middle and high school students, as well as teachers and staff.

The document addressed “frequently asked questions” on preventative measures and proactive strategies for K-12 schools to safely reopen, including COVID-19 screening procedures and social distancing practices. 

“I want to thank all of the medical experts across the state who contributed to this guidance,” said Gov. Mike Parson on social media. “We are confident that if schools can implement this guidance, they can safely reopen.”

The state suggested a screening procedure for students, with special attention paid to certain symptoms, such as fever and shortness of breath. The guide advised parents to monitor children and keep them home if they are symptomatic or have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 within 14 days.

Schools were advised to visually test students for symptoms when they enter the building, with additional screenings and temperature checks as well. The guide suggested teachers self-screen at home and receive temperature checks on entering the school. 

Schools are encouraged to meet with families remotely to allow parents to engage with teachers, but guidelines for on-site visitors include screenings, limitations on movement in the building, and detailed records of visits.

The state also offered advice on social distancing measures. Those measures include limiting the number of people that students come in contact with throughout the day, strict size requirements for student groups, enforcing assigned seating, and the placement of social distancing markers in hallways, classrooms, and cafeterias. 

Guidance for social distancing on school busses included assigning seats, loading busses from back to front, encouraging students to wear face masks, and opening windows. The use of barriers around the bus driver is being reviewed by the Federal Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, according to the document. 

The state included additional advice on social distancing at mealtimes, during recess, and in music classes. The document encouraged the cleaning of equipment, seating, and other surfaces.   

The guidance suggested a designated point person be put in charge of the school’s COVID-19 response with knowledge of contact tracing and noted local health ordinances should also be observed.   

The full document can be viewed here.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For up-to-date information on coronavirus, check with the CDC and DHSS.