Concerned parents and residents filled chairs at the St. Charles County Council meeting on Sept. 27 as a four-week long discussion regarding the county’s legal authority in making its own guidance for quarantining students continued.
At the meeting, council member Joe Cronin (District 1) motioned to withdraw the amended resolution (No. 21-09) he sponsored with Joe Brazil (District 2).
The resolution called for the county executive and County Health Department to suspend quarantine orders for county schools in favor of local districts and school boards making such decisions.
The decision for withdrawal followed an update from County Executive Steve Ehlmann, who recently attended a teleconference with Donald G. Kauerauf, the new director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, and arranged a meeting with Gov. Mike Parson on the issue of keeping local students in school.
On Friday, Sept. 24, the county received a response from Kauerauf indicating that, based on criteria around positivity rates and vaccination rates, the public health department could make modifications to the definition of who is a close contact in regard to student exposure to COVID-19.
The policy was developed in collaboration with local school superintendents.
“Due to the efforts of Mr. Ehlmann, now the county health department can act independently of state orders, which is a huge benefit to us,” Cronin said.
The policy means that students who are exposed in the classroom setting and are wearing a properly fitting mask at the time of exposure do not need to quarantine from school attendance unless the exposed student tests positive or develops symptoms in the 10 days following exposure. This version of modified quarantine does not allow for attendance at extracurricular or community activities.
According to St. Charles County, this modified quarantine definition applies in school buildings with less than 4% positive cases and in which the school district provides school-based contact tracing, unless a school district notifies the health department that they are opting to remain under the state defined quarantine definition. School buildings with a 4% or higher COVID-19 case rate are not eligible and will need to revert to the state defined in-home quarantine. A child who is exposed in to a COVID-19 positive case at home is not eligible to be considered under modified quarantine due to the greater likelihood that the child would become positive.
In St. Charles County, the total vaccination rate by population is 52%, but the competed vaccination rate for ages 12-plus is 61.1%, beating the Missouri average of 55.6%. As of Wednesday, Sept. 22, the county reported a 8.18% case positivity rate with 82 individuals hospitalized, 34 in the ICU and 19 individuals intubated. None of those individuals were school-ages, or under the age of 20.
Cronin saw the state department’s response as promising for laying the groundwork for better communication between the health authorities, the state and the local schools.
“Before, the state would tell us what to do (and) the (local public health agencies) would do that, there wasn’t as much interaction as there has been lately with the superintendents …” Cronin said. “I’m very encouraged by this because I see collaboration with the schools, and we didn’t have that before.”
The statistics, however, did draw concern from some.
“What you’re saying is that the health department is going to do this because you want to make sure kids are safe,” Brazil said. “So, we had no one under the age of 10 die of COVID, and nobody is in the hospital under the age of 20, so keep them safe from what?”
Brazil, who proposed his own amended version of the resolution at the Sept. 13 meeting, expressed frustration at the lack of discussion around the withdrawal. Many audience members left the chamber following resolution’s withdrawal, with one woman pointing to the other members and declaring: “You’re getting voted out!” Another asked, “We can’t get anywhere with the school, we can’t get anywhere with you guys. What are we supposed to do?”
At the same meeting, the council passed a resolution (No. 21-10) opposing government mandated COVID-19 vaccination, allowing the choice to be left up to each individual. The resolution was passed unanimously by the council.