Kansas City Public Schools will likely require everyone to wear masks when the school year begins next month, an official said Wednesday.
Sara Williams, a COVID-19 coordinator for the district, told the school board that while plans are not final, she is recommending that the district follow Kansas City health officials’ guidance that all students and staff wear masks, regardless of whether they are vaccinated. This comes as new COVID-19 cases rise throughout the Kansas City area, driven by a surge in the highly contagious delta variant.
“We all know we’re in an upsurge with the delta variant. So we want to do everything we can to keep students, staff, families, communities safe, so that we are fully open,” Williams told the board. A final recommendation should be made at the next school board meeting, taking effect when classes begin Aug. 23.
Kansas City Public Schools is the second district in the metro area so far to signal a return to universal masking. On Tuesday night, the Kansas City, Kansas, district announced that all staff and students must wear masks in school.
So far, other districts in the area have either not made a decision on masks or are simply recommending them for the unvaccinated. In Johnson County, for example, five of the districts are urging but not requiring masks; the sixth, Shawnee Mission, is expected to announce its decision on Monday.
Throughout the metro, district officials are grappling with conflicting guidance on whether masks should be required for all students and staff, or only those who are unvaccinated, this school year.
On Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended “universal masking.” That differs from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance for schools, which says that people who are not fully vaccinated should wear face masks, especially when “indoors or in crowded settings.”
A group of 100 Kansas City area physicians signed a letter, pleading with school districts to require masks for all students who are not eligible yet for the vaccine, under the age of 12.
Missouri health officials on Wednesday reported the highest daily increase in infections since mid-January, with 2,995 additional cases. And the University of Kansas Health System’s chief medical officer said that it is now turning down transfer patients because its beds are full.
Earlier this week, the Kansas City health department tweeted that in the past 30 days, COVID-19 cases have tripled.
“In just the first half of July there have been 800+ new COVID-19 cases in KC — that’s more than all of June combined,” the tweet said. “Now is the time to get vaccinated. If you’re not vaccinated, please continue to take precautions.”
Along with universal masking, Williams said that the Kansas City district will implement social distancing as much as possible. It will also regularly test students and staff to determine how far spread the virus is in school buildings.
And district officials continue to encourage everyone eligible to get vaccinated against COVID-19, so that classrooms can stay open. Officials hope to avoid school and classroom closures seen across the region last year after students returned to in-person instruction.
In a tweet, district officials said that they are continuing to monitor COVID-19 cases, and are seeking guidance from the state education department, on how to reopen schools safely. Officials said they will communicate with families about COVID-19 protocols in early August.