CITY HALL – When city schools welcome students back to classrooms next month, there’ll be an unseen, unwelcome presence: COVID-19 coronavirus.
“One of the things we know is that in every group of people, there are probably people who have COVID,” Mayor Lyda Krewson said in her live Facebook press conference Monday afternoon. “We’re not expecting that schools will be free of COVID.”
So, she said, we have to plan for it.
“Most school, we believe at this point, will be in person,” she explained, but the school experience won’t be the same as it was before.
“Every school will have to have an infectious disease plan and have protocols in place for when someone is sick, when someone has COVID,” she said.
St. Louis and St. Louis County are working on guidelines for schools as the fall semester approaches. Those guidelines will include the obvious: social distancing, frequent cleaning, smaller groups, some online classes, and wearing face masks in school and on buses.
“This is going to be hard for our kids,” Krewson acknowledged. She said she knew it would happen: One child on a school bus pulling the mask off another, just being playful, “goofing off, goofin’ around.”
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said Monday that county public and private schools were expected to present their plans to parents and students Tuesday after meeting with county public health officials to set protocols for safely reopening classrooms and school activities.
“I think it’s important to get some sort of traditional learning environment in place and to have a pathway to move forward in a way that is safe,” Page said at a news conference.
The announcement came as state health officials reported that the number of new confirmed cases rose Monday to 23,856, up 420 or 1.8 percent since Sunday. The number of COVID-19 deaths held steady at 1,028.
Missouri Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven said Monday that the state was using $55 million in federal coronavirus aid to help schools. She said $10 million would be spent on WiFi, which could mean an estimated 250,000 new internet connections for students.
The state will dole out another $15 million to reimburse schools for the cost of delivering food to students and buying personal protective equipment.
The number of positive COVID-19 cases is rising across the country; in Missouri, the southwest area around Joplin is the current hot spot for the virus.
Krewson said, “I’m still feeling pretty good about where we are here in the St. Louis region.” The St. Louis area’s numbers are still trending downward.
Recent numbers list 2,621 cases in the city. In the region, 230 are hospitalized with confirmed or suspected COVID-19; 52 people are in ICUs; and 27 are on ventilators.
The virus is “still very present with us,” Krewson warned, with increased testing finding more cases. In fact, so many tests have been carried out that the labs doing the testing can’t keep up. Once the backlog is gotten through, many more cases are likely to be revealed.
What to do? Wear those masks, the mayor emphasized.
“I get it, wearing a mask can be kind of irritating and annoying … you forget it, you leave it in the car, you’ve got to run back and get it,” she said. “Those are small inconveniences compared to taking steps that would have to restrict the businesses that are open.
She compared the order to wear masks to bans on smoking, reminding viewers of the public resistance those bans faced at first. By now, smoking bans are widely accepted and enforced through peer pressure as well as law.
“Wearing a mask can help us keep our businesses open” and keep us all safe, she said.
The coronavirus isn’t going away any time soon, so in public places – including schools – “We’ve got to figure out how to co-exist with COVID.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.