Friday night lights will be back on in St. Louis County. High school football games and other high-contact sports such as ice hockey can be played in the county if safety plans are approved by the health department, County Executive Sam Page said Monday.
Public and private schools, including some that moved previous games to neighboring counties, immediately started filling up their schedules. John Burroughs School announced its football team will play Saturday at Priory, three days after a survey went out to Burroughs parents asking if they felt comfortable violating the county’s previous restrictions. Rockwood Summit plays at Parkway West Friday night, although the student athletes are still taking classes from home.
Page said he now encourages high schools to explore a return to in-person learning along with elementary and middle schools. The county plans to allot $3 million from its federal coronavirus relief funds to buy personal protective equipment for school districts.
Many school districts in the county have started to welcome back younger students, but most have yet to announce plans for bringing in high school students before the spring semester.
There have been no spikes in coronavirus cases or outbreaks linked to schools in St. Louis County this fall. Rockwood, the largest school district in the region, has recorded the most cases in school-aged residents, with 532 infections among ages 5 to 19 since March, according to a new state health dashboard. In the last two weeks, the highest number of cases were recorded in the boundaries of districts that are holding in-person classes, Fort Zumwalt (46) and Francis Howell (48) in St. Charles County. Other districts that have opened schools have had no cases in children or teenagers in the last two weeks, including Orchard Farm in St. Charles County and the Jefferson County district south of Festus.
Jennings High School remains the only public high school in St. Louis County to hold in-person classes this fall. Since opening in August, there have been no cases of COVID-19 among Jennings students. Five out of 300 staff members in the district have reported infections, but no transmissions have been traced to school buildings, Superintendent Art McCoy said.
Page’s new guidelines validate the district’s reopening decisions, McCoy said.
“Today was a long time coming. It’s time for all kids to be back.”
About 200 of the district’s 700 high school students chose to return in person two days a week starting in August, with the rest choosing full-time distance learning. An additional 100 students switched to in-person in September, and McCoy expects the on-campus enrollment to rise to 550 or 600 by November. The plan is to bring students back five days a week by January.
“Kids want to be where their friends are. Our students love it. Our parents really love the fact that we’re here for them,” McCoy said. “Our students deserve just as much as any private school, and that’s why we did it.”
The new county guidelines will also allow businesses to let more customers inside, up to 50% of their capacities, Page said. The changes take effect at 5 p.m. Wednesday. The limit has been 25% under the county’s guidelines for reopening.
Page said the county would begin allowing limited use of self-service food and drink stations at restaurants and convenience stores.
The moves come as COVID-19 cases and hospital admissions in the area are on a declining trend.
The St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force reported 20 new hospital admissions for COVID-19 on Saturday. The seven-day moving average was 33, down from 39 on Friday. The task force data lags by two days, and includes patient numbers from BJC HealthCare, Mercy, SSM Health and St. Luke’s Hospital facilities in the metro area.
“We have seen some swings in our numbers within the past week, but hopefully we will continue to see that trend continue to go down,” said Dr. Alex Garza, who leads the task force.
Missouri reported on Monday 987 new cases of COVID-19, well below the state’s seven-day average of 1,449. Missouri has now recorded 133,418 total cases. It also added one death on Monday.
Illinois reported 1,853 new cases of COVID-19, a bit below the state’s 1,965 weekly average; Illinois has reported 303,394 cases. It added 14 deaths on Monday.
Jeremy Kohler of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.
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