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As COVID-19 cases rise among young people, officials say St. Louis area schools can reopen under safety guidelines
basic guidelines

As COVID-19 cases rise among young people, officials say St. Louis area schools can reopen under safety guidelines

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Schools in St. Louis and St. Louis County can reopen for classes this year under new guidelines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, including requiring masks and offering some classes online, local officials said Monday. On the same day, Gov. Mike Parson and Missouri’s Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven were preparing to visit the nation’s capital to discuss school reopenings with federal officials.

Meanwhile, state and local health officials reported that COVID-19 cases were continuing to rise, with most of the new cases in the St. Louis region occurring among young people.

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page and St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson said schools that decide to reopen would have to meet baseline safety protocols, which include masks, social distancing and frequent hand-washing. The guidelines, set by local public health and school officials, were expected to be released Tuesday, they said.

However, public school districts in the city and county said they were not expecting to communicate any reopening plans until later this month. It is up to each school district or private school to decide whether to hold classes in person, online or in some combination. Most Missouri districts are scheduled to begin classes Aug. 24 for the 2020-2021 school year. All county public school districts, as well as St. Louis Public Schools, have agreed to announce plans together July 20, school officials said.

The Archdicoese of St. Louis, which includes dozens of Catholic schools in the St. Louis region, also expects to announce reopening plans later this month, spokesman Peter Frangie said. Church officials are discussing reopening with local public health officials, he said.

Missouri will allocate $7.5 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES, funds specifically to reimburse schools for protective equipment like gloves and masks, cleaning supplies and medical equipment, Vandeven said at an afternoon news conference.

Vandeven and Parson said they would travel Tuesday to Washington to discuss school reopenings with federal officials.

“I also want to thank administrators across the state for their part,” Parson said, “to make sure that we are opening the schools back up, to get kids back in, to be able to do it safely, and to get our kids educated.”

Cases rising

Missouri officials on Monday reported a total of 23,856 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Missouri, 1,028 deaths attributable to the disease and 740 people in the hospital.

Parson, at a news briefing Monday, said “although we are seeing increases in certain areas, I want to again remind everyone that Missouri is not overwhelmed. Our health care system remains stable and we continue to test across the state to identify and isolate positive cases.”

Dr. Alex Garza, head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, said in a briefing on Facebook that most of the hospital data is showing increased transmission of the virus, including an increase in patients in hospitals.

Garza said there has been an increase in younger people testing positive, although people from those groups don’t typically end up in the hospital.

New COVID-19 cases in St. Louis County are most present in people ages 10 to 30 years old, who are more likely than older adults to carry the virus without showing symptoms and transfer it without knowing, Page said. He implored residents, including teens and young adults, to follow county orders requiring masks in public places and to follow social distancing guidelines.

“I’m calling on all of our teens and young adults to think about the ones that they love when they’re out and about,” Page said. “Please be responsible, protect those that you love, and remember we must all do our part.”

Illinois officials reported 147,865 total cases as of Monday, with 7,026 deaths. They said 1,395 were in the hospital, with 321 patients in the ICU and 151 were on ventilators in the state.

School guidelines

Page, at a morning new briefing, said county public health officials had worked with superintendents of several area districts to set basic safety guidelines that any school would have to meet to reopen.

“Tomorrow, the schools are expected to release their reopening guidelines,” Page said Monday. “Certainly schools will look a little different with social distancing, but we believe that our schools have a plan to keep kids safe, to keep their staffs safe, and to keep teachers safe,” Page said.

The guidelines follow social distancing measures already in place for the wider community, and schools will include provisions specific to their needs, Page said. The county includes 24 public school districts, plus many private and parochial schools.

Page’s words jolted several public school districts, which said after his briefing that they were not expecting to communicate any reopening plans until later this month.

“Today, Dr. Sam Page and subsequent news reports shared that St. Louis County school districts would release reopening plans tomorrow,” said Cathy Kelly, spokeswoman for Parkway School District. “This is inaccurate information. As we previously shared, we will release our final plans on July 20 for the upcoming school year at the same time as all St. Louis County school districts.”

Education Plus, a local nonprofit agency that supports dozens of local school districts, led the working group that drafted the guidelines. The group also included doctors from St. Louis Children’s Hospital, said Christine Stanek McDonald, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit.

“It’s going to cover everything from screening for students and staff to what situations you should be trying to wear face masks, to transportation,” she said. “We want to make sure you have a safe environment but also one in which kids can learn and have a positive school community experience.”

McDonald said transportation was among the most difficult challenges facing schools because it brings kids into close contact in a confined space.

Jack Suntrup and Blythe Bernhard of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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Reporter covering breaking news and crime by night. Born in Algeria but grew up in St. Louis. Previously reported for The Associated Press in Jackson, Mississippi and at the Wichita Eagle in Wichita, Kansas.

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