To the public health officials who serve the residents of [jurisdiction]:
With both COVID-19 cases surging and flu season on the horizon, not to mention the various other services you are in charge of, these are certainly challenging times to navigate for public health workers. I understand how precious your time is, and it means a great deal to me that you would allow me a moment of it. I am writing today to express my concern regarding the revised guidance related to handling isolation or quarantine for school-aged students that was announced by Governor Michael Parson on 11/12/2020, and subsequent communication issued by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
As I am certain you are aware, the rate at which cases are being identified has nearly tripled over the last 30 days. The dashboard being provided by the governor’s office is 20,000 cases behind real-time, and contrary to what it is reporting (66 deaths), other jurisdictions from across the state have reported 228 deaths between 11/06-11/13. Using accurate case data, there are currently only 4 jurisdictions in the state who are not in the “red zone”, as defined by The White House Coronavirus Task Force, indicating that there is widespread and uncontrolled community spread in over 95% of the state. There are calls from esteemed physicians from all areas of Missouri for mandatory mask mandates for Missouri, and some (including an emotional Dr. Alex Garza of the St. Louis Metropolitan Coronavirus Task Force) have started calling for shelter-in-place measures to reduce the strain on our healthcare systems. As emergency patients with both COVID-19 and non-viral illnesses are frequently being rerouted out of the state for care, the time to ensure the sustainability of our most talented and compassionate caregivers has never been more critical.
The guidance that has been released by Governor Parson and the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is in direct conflict with the most current CDC guidance. During the press conference, there was no data shared that indicates allowing students who have been exposed to COVID-19 to return to schools provides any benefit. Considering the current levels of transmission, and leaders from healthcare organizations across the state pleading with the public to do something, anything, to save the lives of Missourians, I am writing to implore you to act in the best interest of your constituents.
The rational, compassionate general public sees your challenges. We know the story of Amber Elliot, the former director of the St. Francois County Health Department, who was personally harassed and threatened to the point that she is vacating her position next week, and we know at least 11 other directors from Missouri are no longer in their respective positions, as well. We see the comments on your social media posts attempting to discredit your professional opinion and your drive to protect even the most divisive members of your community. We hear the things elected officials are saying, attempting to undermine your credibility. While these voices are typically the loudest, we want you to know that you have a tremendous amount of support, and we will always have your back when you act in the best interests of public health. We hope that you always carry this with you.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the governor has maintained that local public health agencies retain the authority to implement protocols for their respective communities as they see fit. The need for strong, consistent messaging has never been greater. I ask that you consider following the lead of Boone and Jackson Counties, and the jurisdiction of Kansas City, who have refuted the new guidance and will continue to follow the lead of the CDC, in the best interest of their communities. I know that this is not an easy decision to make, and I know that it will be met with criticism from those loud voices, but the decisions that are made now about the things we can control will be written into the history books.
Thank you so much for your time, consideration, and for the tremendous amount of energy that you and your team have put into the response to this unprecedented health crisis.
The following letter can be copied, pasted, and sent to health department officials as you see fit, in response to the new guidance issued by Governor Parson.