Jul 30, 2020 9:00 PM

Missouri schools wrestle with decision on returning to class

Posted Jul 30, 2020 9:00 PM

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — With coronavirus cases surging, several St. Louis-area school districts have decided to start the school year with online-only learning, while the state’s largest school district is limiting the number of days each student will attend in-person.

Springfield Public Schools plan to reopen with each student attending classes for two days, and learning virtually otherwise. Republican Gov. Mike Parson was in Springfield Wednesday and said he supported the plan.

Parson said after meeting with local educators that he understood the frustration of many parents who want their kids back in the classroom full-time.

“But when you look at a Springfield school district, I would look at how big that is, and ask ‘How do you do that?’ and ‘How do you do that safely?’” Parson said.

Meanwhile, a growing list of St. Louis-area districts will start the year with virtual instruction only. The Clayton, Parkway, Pattonville and Webster Groves districts were among those to announce their plans Wednesday.

St. Louis County has no authority to mandate what schools do, but County Executive Sam Page has urged parents to opt for virtual learning.

Missouri is among many states that have seen a big rise in new confirmed cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Missouri recorded 1,927 new cases Wednesday, topping the one-day record set a day earlier of 1,773 cases.

The state has seen new one-day records 10 times this month, and the seven-day rolling average of daily new cases over the past two weeks has risen from about 644 cases per day on July 15 to an average of 1,443 new cases per day on July 29.

All told, Missouri has reported 46,750 confirmed cases and 1,220 deaths since the pandemic began. The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

Despite the rising numbers, Missouri “is in a different place” than it was early in the pandemic thanks to better testing and a better understanding of the illness, a spokeswoman for the state health department said.

Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services spokeswoman Lisa Cox said in an email that health officials now know more about how the virus behaves and are better prepared to deal with it.

Testing has also improved greatly, Cox said. Whereas only a few thousand Missourians were tested each week early in the pandemic, more than 90,000 people are now being tested weekly, she said.

Cox cited a big increase in the number of younger people coming down with the virus, raising concern that many have “let their guard down on using preventive measures such as social distancing, wearing face masks and using good hand-washing,” Cox said.