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ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — Several St. Louis-area school districts have proposals to end mask orders for students as the number of children hospitalized for COVID-19 reaches a three-month high in the region.   

The Hazelwood School Board weighed masking options Tuesday night, following the lead of districts across St. Louis County. 

“People are getting beyond the mandates,” said Missouri Gov. Mike Parson. “I think we see that on the federal level, the state level.  I think it’s time for parents to make decisions about what’s best for their kids.”

Mehlville Schools will switch to optional masking starting Jan. 17, with a 1% threshold in place. This means any particular school that sees a 1% infection rate would return to mandated masking for at least two weeks.

The Parkway School Board will vote on a similar proposal Wednesday night. If approved, the district would switch to optional masking on Jan. 18, with a 2% infection threshold.

The Rockwood School Board votes Thursday on a proposal to go mask-optional Jan. 3, with a 4% infection threshold for each school. The Lindbergh School Board also votes Thursday on a proposal to go mask-optional on Jan. 5, with a  1.5% threshold.

The changes come amid heavy pressure from Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt. A Cole County judge recently ruled that only elected officials can enact health orders, which makes most school mask orders illegal, according to Schmitt.

The St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force reported a surge in children being hospitalized for COVID-19 infections in the St. Louis region: up to 21 this week, the highest number since September.  The number dropped to 19 Tuesday, with four children in intensive care.

“The omicron variant which is on the horizon does seem to affect kids pretty readily, whether it’s more so than delta, we don’t know.  We do know that’s going to be a potential problem in the coming days,” said Dr. Clay Dunagan, the head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force.

Schmitt released the following statement about mask mandates in schools:

“All of our actions have been to put the power back in the hands of parents and children and out of the hands of power-hungry bureaucrats. Children have a low risk of contracting, spreading, or becoming seriously ill from covid-19.  The St. Louis Pandemic Task Force can continue to stoke fear, but St. Louis Public Schools and other area school districts have had mask mandates for over a year, which proves that masks don’t work if they’re reporting a ’surge’ in cases.  Further, a number of school districts across the state have imposed mask mandates for months and yet still experience the same ebbs and flows that the entire state does in cases. It’s time that we recognize that this virus is endemic and that people should have the ability to make their own choices for their kids.”