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University of Missouri board rejects mask mandate request

January 11, 2022 GMT

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — The University of Missouri’s governing board on Tuesday rejected a request from the university system’s president to temporarily require masks on the Columbia campus in response to increasing cases of COVID-19.

System President Mun Choi first asked the Board of Curators to enact a mask requirement in classrooms, laboratories, offices and public buildings when attendance was required and social distancing wasn’t possible.

After that was rejected, Choi sought a mandate only for classrooms and labs, with masks strongly encouraged in other indoor spaces, to run from Jan. 18 to Feb. 3. That request was also denied.

Masks are required at all four-year universities in the state except for the University of Missouri in Columbia and Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, Choi said.

Curators expressed skepticism that a mask requirement on campus would help slow the spread of the virus, noting that the city of Columbia and Boone County currently do not have mask mandates, according to Columbia media outlets.

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“What’s the driving issue here?” Curator Greg Hoberock asked. “Are we trying to protect the health of all Columbia and Boone County, or keep our campus open?”

“We’re trying to keep the university open, but in the process of keeping the university open, we do believe it will reduce the number of transmissions within the community,” Choi said.

The university will continue to recommend masks in indoor spaces. Spring semester classes are scheduled to begin next week.

The university reported 163 students with COVID-19 on Sunday, as well as 19 faculty and 66 staff members with active COVID cases. The number of active student cases is the highest seen during the 2021-22 school year, according to the university’s dashboard.

Columbia College and Stephens College in Columbia will both start the semester only with online courses.

The latest COVID-19 surge in Missouri has residents scrambling to find tests.

More than 1,000 people were tested for COVID-19 at a clinic Monday at the Truman Sports Complex in Kansas City, and appointments for Tuesday and Wednesday were already filled.

“We’ve tried all the pharmacies and they’re all booked,” said John Maughmer, who was among 1,600 who received a test kit and swabbed themselves, KMBC-TV reported.

Sonny Naqvi, president and CEO of Aim Laboratories, which is running the clinic for the state, said the tests are easy but the backup is caused by lack of manpower both at the clinic and a lab that evaluates the tests.

The demand for at-home COVID-19 tests is so strong the state had temporarily stopped providing the tests to allow the contractor to catch up with a backlog, state health department officials said. The program will resume on Wednesday, with the state offering 500 tests a day through the end of the month.

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“We want to make sure that if people order a kit, they’re not waiting for it for two weeks,” said Lisa Cox, spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

During the first six weeks of the program, which began in May, Cox said the state received about 6,000 requests for tests. That changed in early December, when the state’s contractor, Picture Genetics, received 15,000 requests, KCUR reported.

She said another 10,000 tests were claimed in late December, with another 15,000 requests between Jan. 1-4, when the program was paused to determine how to respond to the demand.