COLUMBIA, Mo. — Missouri's health department is drawing up new guidelines to help schools keep children from catching COVID-19, the agency's new director said Thursday.
The agency's new guidance will provide a clearer path for how schools can keep children from getting sick or needing to quarantine, and communities will be able to tailor it to their needs, Director Don Kauerauf said.
"Kids need to stay in the classroom," he said. "We are working on some material now that we think will help schools and local health authorities to provide clearer information so that we can get away from some of this confusion."
Kauerauf also said that masks work and that information is key to boosting Missouri's lagging vaccination rate.
Missouri recorded another 12,173 cases of COVID-19 between Sept. 7 and Sept. 13, according to health department data. That's about 1,739 new cases per day.
Kauerauf took over as the head of the Department of Health and Senior Services at the start of the month. His predecessor, Randall Williams, left the job in April without publicly citing a reason.
Kauerauf on Thursday told reporters he's vaccinated and wears masks in public and in crowded areas to limit the virus' spread and protect his family.
"If there's even a chance I could acquire a virus, even though I'm vaccinated, and pass that on to my elderly parents (or) my special needs daughter, I couldn't even fathom the guilt that would go through me if I ever did such a thing," he said. "Yes, I wear a mask."
Kauerauf said that giving accurate information to people with concerns about the vaccine is the key to increasing the state's vaccination rate.
Missouri has one of the poorest vaccination rates in the country, with less than 47% of its overall population fully inoculated, compared to the national average of 54.1%. In comparison, more than two-thirds of Vermont's population — 68.7% — is fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"We need to make sure people know what accurate information is (and) where they can go to get information about what's true about vaccines, not what they read on some thread somewhere," Kauerauf said.
He said higher vaccination rates would have helped stave off the outbreaks in southwestern Missouri this summer.
Community outbreaks are the biggest driver of vaccination increases, Kauerauf said, because residents see firsthand how harmful the virus is.