Missouri Creates Partners to Learn More About COVID-19 in K12 Schools

CDC Partners to Arrive in Springfield and St. Louis This Weekend

Jefferson City, MO (STL.News) Today, Missouri Governor Mike Parson announced that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) partners will arrive in the Springfield and St. Louis areas this weekend to assist local schools and public health officials in reviewing current public health measures and support efforts to provide a safe school environment.

“From the beginning, we have stressed the importance of keeping our students in school not only for their education but also for their safety, health, and well-being,” Governor Parson said. “Schools that consistently implement mitigation strategies remain among the safest places for students, which is why we have continually encouraged schools to put these strategies in place.”

Earlier this month, it was announced that the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) and Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education would be partnering with the Institute for Public Health at Washington University, St. Louis University, and the CDC to better understand the impact of COVID-19 mitigation strategies on transmission of the virus in school settings.

Schools participating in this pilot project are being identified in St. Charles County, St. Louis County, and Greene County.  Participation in the project is completely voluntary for school districts as well as students, families, faculty, and staff in these districts.

“We know that COVID-19 is not going away soon, so it is important that we continue to evaluate the guidance we’re issuing at the state level to ensure our procedures are effective and sustainable,” Governor Parson said.  “We look forward to working with the local public health agencies, Washington University, St. Louis University, and the CDC on this project and the knowledge and information we’ll gain.”

This collaborative effort will build on the state’s knowledge of the impacts of mitigation strategies such as mask mandates implemented at the local school level and the impact these strategies are having on secondary transmission of the virus.

When a case is identified in a participating school, contact tracing will be performed to identify close contacts.  Those individuals will self-monitor for symptoms and be offered saliva testing developed by Washington University at various times during the quarantine period to help identify potential transmission.

“The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education appreciates the partnerships that continue to be formed across our state to examine mitigation strategies in our schools,” said Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Margie Vandeven.  “State officials and local school leaders are eager for as much data as possible to help inform decision-making as they work hard to educate Missouri students while continuing to focus on the health and safety of both students and staff members.”

“We are so appreciative of those who are volunteering to be part of this effort that is groundbreaking within Missouri,” DHSS Director Dr. Randall Williams said.  “We understand the importance of in-classroom learning for children’s overall well-being and are committed to adapting our policies to reflect the knowledge we have accumulated since March.  This initiative allows us to further that knowledge.”

CDC partners will work onsite with staff from Washington University, St. Louis University, local public health agencies, and local schools for the first two weeks to activate the project.  Much of the work throughout the project will occur virtually or by phone.

The project is being piloted in December until schools go on winter break, and the entire data collection and review process is anticipated to be completed within three months.  The project will also involve a survey of school-based mitigation strategies in schools throughout the state to better understand the measures being implemented in other regions.

“Our administrators and teachers are working extremely hard to provide the best education possible for students during these unprecedented times,” said Jason Newland, MD, Pediatric Infectious Diseases Specialist at Washington University School of Medicine.  “We are excited to collaborate with the CDC, St. Louis University, and the state of Missouri to further evaluate schools’ efforts to keep teachers and students safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Education is an important component of good public health, especially for those foundational younger years.  We know this generation of children has experienced unprecedented interruption to traditional education delivery, and we need to do everything we can to help these kids succeed,” said Springfield-Greene County Health Department Director Clay Goddard.  “This study will provide valuable evidence to understand how we can set them up for success and prevent disease spread.  Springfield has been a key player in establishing the evidence of the value of masking, and we hope this study will further advance our scientific understanding.”