With thousands of students quarantined in the first weeks of the new school year, the Missouri director of health said the state is exploring a new strategy that aims to keep children in class through regular testing. .

Donald Kauerauf, the new director of the Department of Health and Seniors’ Services, said his agency discussed on Tuesday a new modified quarantine protocol known as the “test to stay” with schools.

The concept typically allows students to stay in school and forgo quarantine if they continue to test negative for COVID-19 and show no symptoms after being identified as close contact.

In an interview with The Independent on Wednesday, Kauerauf said details were still being worked out for what a “test-to-stay” model in Missouri might look like.

“This is a new procedure that several states have successfully implemented that allows children to stay in school,” Kauerauf said. “And one of the things we made clear in our post was our desire to match public health with the fact that we have to keep kids in school.”

A growing number of schools nationwide have implemented the amended quarantine policy which relies on regular testing. However, it is not endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which notes on its website that when it comes to allowing close contacts to stay in school, it “doesn’t have enough evidence at the moment to support this approach “.

An example of how the “test to stay” can be used in Missouri includes when a person is exposed to a classmate when masks have not been worn consistently and correctly, according to a ministry presentation. of Health and Services for the Elderly and the Ministry of Elementary and Secondary Education which defined the new strategy.

Changing Quarantine Policies

Kauerauf stressed that this would be an option for schools to use but not a requirement.

“This is a new epidemic. This disease is changing, ”he said. “And we must change as a state to meet the demands of what this virus places on our citizens. “

The state is considering whether to provide testing kits to districts along with other details. A timeline has not yet been set for finalizing the details of the modified quarantine option, Kauerauf said, noting that this is an “evolutionary process.”

The possibility of a new, modified quarantine option follows the state’s relaxation of the CDC’s 14-day quarantine guidelines last year. In November, the state announced that students and staff who were in close contact would not have to self-quarantine if the two individuals were wearing masks “appropriately” at the time of the exposure.

Currently, students, teachers and staff identified as close contacts are also not required to self-quarantine if they are fully vaccinated and do not develop symptoms or have had COVID-19 in the previous three months. and recovered, according to the guidance notes.

It is unclear to what extent a modified quarantine policy that relies on regular testing will be adopted. While large districts in the state have implemented regular testing for students and staff, many have given up on mitigating measures like testing or made wearing masks optional.

A drug testing program backed by $ 185 million in federal funds already underway has struggled to attract many schools across the state.

The program, which is managed by Ginkgo Bioworks Inc., a Boston-based biotechnology company, has 15 participating districts, according to the state’s dashboard. They are mostly found on the Kansas City and St. Louis subways. Overall, 53 schools have opted for the program, which provides supplies, staff and resources for testing.

Some districts that have not opted before have told The Independent they are concerned about the additional burden a testing program will place on already overwhelmed school nurses. Others said they probably wouldn’t be interested even with funding available, because “we don’t want to turn our school into a medical facility,” as one superintendent said.

Hide prosecutions

Meanwhile, as the state’s health department aims to give schools more options, the attorney general’s office is fighting in court to remove one.

A Boone County judge will be asked this week to decide whether Attorney General Eric Schmitt can prosecute each district with mask warrants in a single case. Schmitt’s office is seeking a preliminary injunction blocking mask rules, while the District of Columbia is asking for the case to be closed.

Kauerauf has openly said wearing masks is helping stop the spread of COVID-19.

But when asked on Wednesday about Schmitt’s argument that mask warrants are unnecessary in schools and that “there is no indication by studies or widespread studies that masking is really effective.” , Kauerauf declined to comment.

Kauerauf said he had not spoken with Schmitt’s office about their lawsuits challenging the mask warrants and that it was not a priority for him.

“I am not a politician. I’ll never be a politician, ”Kauerauf said. “My job is to implement the rules, the statutes as they exist, to enable them to solve these problems. I’m focusing on the epidemic right now. “

A new law that limits the power of local public health officials to issue restrictions to curb the spread of contagious diseases is the basis of Schmitt’s lawsuits – and one has already resulted in a temporary restraining order against a mask warrant in St. Louis County.

Kauerauf recently said the new law is “haunting me”. But despite the law’s impact on local authorities’ response to the pandemic, Kauerauf said on Wednesday his concern was to ensure local authorities have accurate information about the virus and make decisions based on it. that they know the facts are.

“None of these laws will prevent people from wearing masks,” he said. “The laws will provide more mechanism for the approval process. “

When asked if he thinks the attorney general’s office has specific information about the masks and how to stop the spread of the virus, Kauerauf said it would be a question for the attorney general’s office .


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