Superintendent explains mask-wearing protocol option

By Roxie Murphy, Staff Writer
Posted 11/18/20

Gasconade R-2 Board of Education directors Monday night voted to move forward with an optional change to COVID-19 guidelines that could reduce first-and second-contact quarantines in exchange for …

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Superintendent explains mask-wearing protocol option

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Gasconade R-2 Board of Education directors Monday night voted to move forward with an optional change to COVID-19 guidelines that could reduce first-and second-contact quarantines in exchange for mask mandates.

“We do contact tracing and we have people who are closer than six feet for more than 15 minutes, they are a quarantined person regardless of mask-wearing,” Superintendent Dr. Chuck Garner explained in an interview earlier on Monday. “However, if both parties are wearing masks, they don’t have to quarantine if they don’t have symptoms.”

A secondary contact may have come into contact with the positive case for less than 15 minutes and six feet apart.

“But now, if a person beside me was wearing a mask and tested positive, as long as I’m wearing a mask, I don’t have to quarantine,” Garner explained.

Gov. Mike Parson and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) released on Nov. 12 the optional modifications to Missouri’s K-12 school reopening and operating guidance. The release noted that “a large number of students and school staff members quarantined in recent weeks has presented a significant strain for educators, school leaders, and Missouri families alike.”

Under the updated guidance, proper mask-wearing may now prevent individuals from being identified as close contacts in K-12 schools that have implemented a mask mandate. This means that if both individuals at school — the person diagnosed with COVID-19 and the person exposed to the positive case —have masks on and are wearing them correctly, the individual exposed does not need to quarantine.

“There would have to be a districtwide mandate and would pertain to buildings that would require everyone to wear a mask,” Garner said, adding that the rules could apply to everyone or just certain buildings. “Then they would fall under the new guideline. If they didn’t wear masks, they would fall under the old guidelines.”

Garner said the school board would determine if all buildings or only certain buildings should operate under the mask mandates.

“Each school district gets to set that at their own discretion or not at all,” Garner said. “If they choose not to, they would continue to follow the same protocols as the last 12 weeks.”

Implementing a mask mandate in individual schools or districtwide would be “similar to other things they have in place,” says Garner.

“Put it in context to being in an assigned seat or following the dress code. We would have the same protocols in place when we have anything like that implemented,” Garner said. “We would have protocols in place where we could assist students and staff and everybody to follow the guidelines. We would have to figure out why they are not wearing them correctly, and how we could assist them. Do they not have one (a mask)? Then put guidelines in place.”

The board discussed what implementing a mask mandate would look like in each building and how appropriate it would be for certain age groups.

“We have reached out to other districts who have it in place, so we are not reinventing the wheel. If we go that direction, it will look slightly different in each building, based on the age of the kids and circumstances that we are dealing with,” Garner said. “If we can keep students from being quarantined and in school, that would be a positive thing.”

However, having a mask mandate would not prevent all quarantines from being issued at school.

“Many exposures are from outside the school,” Garner said. “This does not keep them out of quarantine if they came into contact outside of the school setting or if contact is at lunch or athletics when the mask is off. They would still be considered a close contact and would be quarantined.”

Many quarantines come from home, work or an event and those quarantines would still take place.

Garner said they currently contact trace students and staff who may have been in contact with a positive case, including where students sit in class, at lunch, and on the bus. Then turn that information over to the health department to determine if quarantines are necessary. In those cases, a mask mandate could help.

“I know in the last case, there are 20 to 25 students who could have not been quarantined,” Garner said. “Then in another case where four were quarantined, it wouldn’t have saved any of them because they were a close contact at lunch. It is all a case of where a student sits and who sits around them.”

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