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After starting school without mask mandate, Elsberry schools to require masks for students

"We tried to go without masks, and we haven't had success,” said Superintendent Tim Reller

ELSBERRY, Mo. — After starting the year without a mask mandate, one local district is now making masks mandatory for all students.

This comes on the heels of Lincoln County being designated as a COVID hotspot.

RELATED: Lincoln, Warren counties are Missouri's latest COVID hotspots

After three weeks in school, Elsberry Superintendent Tim Reller said his district has learned an important lesson.

"We tried to go without masks, and we haven't had success,” said Superintendent Tim Reller.

Currently, the district in Lincoln County has 14 positive COVID cases, but roughly 25% of the district's 800 students are in quarantine.

"We have a lot of students missing school because of close contact,” said Reller.

In this rural area, Reller said online learning isn’t an option.

"You just can't replicate what you do in person,” said Reller.

So the district is making masks mandatory for all students.

"We view the mask mandate as a way to cut down on kids who are close contacts and have to quarantine, so we have more kids in school,” said Reller.

"It's absolutely a step in the right direction,” said Lincoln County Health Department Administrator Brett Siefert. “It's a clear demonstration that they're doing the best that they can for their staff and students."

Siefert said he’s working to add more testing sites.

"Testing would be useful in the school setting,” said Siefert.

With more than $180-million in federal funding available in Missouri we wanted to know if Elsberry would provide on-site testing for students.

"We don't have the staff to be able to take on some type of testing program,” said Reller.

That’s why Reller said his district will continue to monitor the metrics moving forward.

"It seems like every time we think we have something figured out on this it changes,” said Reller. “It's been 18 months of this that we've dealt with it, and dealt with the changes. I wish I could predict the future but unfortunately, I haven't been right yet so I'm not going to start now."

"We've got a whirlwind semester coming up I think,” said Reller.

Since Elsberry doesn't have school on Monday, the mandate will take effect on Tuesday.

Dr. Reller said masks will be available to every student when they get on the bus and again once they get to school.