Jackson County Executive Frank White, Jr. – in consultation with Jackson County Health Department Acting Director Ray Dlugolecki, MPH and Emergency Management Coordinator Troy Schulte – is recommending a public health order requiring universal mask-wearing at K-12 Jackson County public schools. A majority support of the Jackson County Legislature will be required to enact the order, which would take effect on Tuesday, January 18 at the earliest, or upon adoption by the Legislature and signature of the County Executive.
The proposed public health order aligns with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Jackson County Health Department. County Executive White is making the recommendation in response to the significant surge in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations due, in part, to the highly-contagious Omicron and Delta variants and stagnant vaccination rates in Eastern Jackson County.
“We know how valuable in-person learning is for students, but maintaining that practice is becoming increasingly difficult as schools struggle to have enough teachers in the classroom and more children are getting sick at an alarming rate,” said Jackson County Executive Frank White, Jr. “Masking wearing has proven to be an effective way to mitigate the spread of the virus and will help keep students, teachers, staff and visitors safe in school buildings. Our vigilant masking efforts, combined with vaccinations for everyone ages 5 and older, will be key to reducing the risk of COVID-19 spread in schools.”
County officials continue to meet regularly with Jackson County school district superintendents to discuss the status of COVID-19 and a collective response and provided their input leading up to the County Executive’s recommendation for K-12 universal masking. High levels of COVID-related hospital admissions and associated staffing shortages are putting a significant strain on hospitals, limiting the number of available ICU and non-ICU beds that are forcing facilities to enter periods of diversion. At a briefing this week, Children’s Mercy reported a record number 34 kids hospitalized with COVID infections since the pandemic began and stressed the importance of wearing a mask.
“I think it does certainly help,” said Children’s Mercy Chief Emergency Management Medical Officer Dr. Jennifer Watts. “We know as pediatricians that a vital piece to pediatric well-being is for the kids to stay in school.”
The latest data from the Jackson County Health Department shows:
- The 7-day case rate per 100,000 has reached an all-time pandemic high. The week of January 2, there were 1,101 total new cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days. This case rate is more than 10 times higher than the CDC’s classification of high transmission.
- The percent positive for school-aged children remains extremely high. While the overall percent positivity is 35.5% for the week of January 2, the percent positivity for ages 10-19 are above 40%.
- The 7-day average of daily new cases increased nearly 450% in the Kansas City region from 898 new cases per day on December 6, 2021, to 4,885 new cases per day on January 4, 2022.
- Vaccination coverage remains low in younger populations. With the exception of the newly authorized 5-11 age group, 25-34 year old’s have the lowest vaccination completion percentage at approximately 49%. This age group continuously has among the highest case rates as well, currently holding the highest COVID-19 case rate for December 2021.
If approved by a majority of the Legislature, the public health order would remain in effect until 6:00 p.m. on February 3, 2022.