JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri lawmakers met with the new director of the state health department Tuesday, asking him what he thinks about mask-wearing and vaccine mandates. Don Kauerauf started as the director for the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) Sept. 1 after Dr. Randall Williams was asked to resign in April.
Kauerauf said his goal is prevention and to get Missourians to trust public health officials again.
“We’ve got to get COVID under control, we’ve got to,” Kauerauf said. “If you ask me how to do we get it under control, we have to get vaccinated.”
Kauerauf has had a long career in public health and safety in Illinois. He was the former assistant director for the Illinois Department of Public Health.
“I think that’s going to be one of my first roles with the department is helping build that infrastructure,” Kauerauf said. “We are at a point where we have to rebuild people’s confidence.”
He told the members on the House Health and Mental Health committee Tuesday he’s concerned about the lack of health screens Missourians have put off for the last year and a half because of COVID.
“We have failed at public health, people should have followed through on getting vaccinated,” Kauerauf said. “It’s sad that we got to this point where this became a political issue.”
Members asked the director his view on mask and vaccine mandates.
“What are your thoughts about the vaccine mandates both from a federal government and even statewide, specifically at hospitals?” Rep. Brian Seitz, R-Branson, said.
“As a public health organization, if we have to wait for a mandate, we have a problem,” Kauerauf said. “We’ve had ample opportunity that everyone should know you get vaccinated, that’s how we stop this disease.”
Seitz went on to ask him about the possibility of a vaccine mandate coming down from the Biden administration, saying, “Last year they [nurses] were heroes, this year they are seen as villains, and they could lose their job” for not taking the vaccine.”
“I am nervous about people possibly leaving nursing, that’s something we’ve got to retain,” Kauerauf said. “Another issue is other states are paying more for nurses.”
Rep. Terry Thomas, R-Lake Ozark, questioned him about his position on natural immunity.
“People that have tested positive for COVID and have survived, but so far, all I’ve heard is that you want everyone to get vaccinated,” Thomas said.
“Yes. It’s the fact that there’s not a pre-screening for having natural immunity,” Kauerauf said.
Kauerauf said he wears a mask because of his family.
“My daughter, who has special needs, has various cardiac conditions, and the thought that even if there’s .0001% change that as being fully vaccinated that I could actually shed the virus to her, my daughter, is something I could not live with,” Kauerauf said.
“We know for a fact that this mask works, and we know it.”
Over in Illinois, Kauerauf oversaw the implementation of the country’s first statewide pandemic influenza exercise and wrote Illinois’ Pandemic Influenza Preparedness and Response plan.
He went on to tell committee members he’s not a fan of mask mandates because it’s not successful. Instead of wearing the mask the right way, people will put it on however they want just to say it’s on.
His wife also works in public health, as the chief of communicable disease for the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Kauerauf said he has been married for 26 years and has triplets who are 22 years old.