COVID Graphic

The number of students from local school districts quarantining at home totals over 300, according to information provided by the districts to The Missourian on Wednesday.

As of Wednesday, Washington leads local districts with 174 students in mandated quarantine because of exposure to the coronavirus, followed by Meramec Valley R-III with 71, St. Clair R-XIII with 58, St. Francis Borgia Regional High School with 19 and New Haven with three. Officials from Union R-XI did not respond to requests for data in time for publication. Numbers from Borgia grade school were not included in the district’s data release.

Officials with the five districts that responded each said that these quarantine numbers are comparable to what they experienced last year at the start of the school year.

None of the area districts currently enforce a mask policy, despite guidance in early August from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending universal indoor masking for all students age 2 or older, staff, teachers and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.

As of Friday, the number of quarantined classrooms in the Washington School District had jumped to seven elementary classrooms compared with three classrooms on Wednesday. These quarantines are the result of a student in a room not wearing a mask who later tested positive for COVID-19. 

Eleven of the 174 students in quarantine currently have the virus, though superintendent Dr. Jennifer Kephart said those numbers fluctuate on a daily basis. She said the district will release updated numbers every Monday via the district’s website, though next week’s release will be delayed due to Labor Day.  

Of the 174 students quarantined in the district, 156 were exposed to COVID-19 within the school and quarantined by the health department. Eighteen students were exposed to the virus outside of school. All 174 students are learning virtually.  

The Washington School District has 3,849 students enrolled as of June 2021, according to district officials. 

Kyle Kruse, St. Clair district superintendent, said the cases in his district were spread throughout its buildings. He said masks in school would not help for most of his students in quarantine because contact tracing found that exposures mostly occurred outside of schools. St. Clair started the year with 69 students in quarantine, including both the football and volleyball teams. 

Moira Vossbrink, director of marketing and admissions at Borgia, said the number of students in quarantine has been low across its schools until this week, when it jumped to double digits.

Two teachers in addition to 71 students are in quarantine at Meramec Valley, where 75 percent of the student exposures have occurred in school buildings. Superintendent Dr. Carrie Schwierjohn said the number is close to where the district was in late winter and early spring. She said the peak months in 2020 were October through December.

Meanwhile, school nurses and other contact tracers have been facing backlash. Franklin County Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker is asking citizens to tone down their interactions with health workers.

“I am asking everyone to please do your best to be civil, and understand that school nurses or contact tracers are simply doing their jobs and certainly do not deserve the verbal and social abuse they have been receiving by simply being subordinate to the existing State Health Code,” Brinker wrote in a press release. 

When asked how often nurses were experiencing abuse, Brinker said, “I got messages yesterday from two school nurses asking for help, and by God, I’m going to help them.”

Brinker said the pushback against quarantining, which mostly consists of hateful messages on social media and cursing over the phone, in addition to being inappropriate, is directed toward the wrong people. The state code of health set the mandatory quarantine policy that districts follow. 

“The only way lawful and appropriate ways to change these rules are legislatively and or through the governor’s office,” the release said.

The penalty for parents or guardians who refuse to follow the policy can be up to $100, according to state statute 167.191, which has been in the Missouri Constitution since 1963.