More than a half-dozen local health departments in Missouri have stopped offering COVID-19 services, such as contact tracing and tracking case numbers, in response to threats of legal action from Attorney General Eric Schmitt.
Schmitt, a Republican who is running for the U.S. Senate, this week sent letters to local health officials and school districts saying he would pursue legal action if they did not comply with a ruling last month that struck down regulations giving local health departments the power to issue quarantine and other public health orders.
At least six departments issued statements as of Thursday night saying they would stop COVID-19-related work such as case investigations, contact tracing, quarantine orders, and public announcements of current cases/deaths. They included agencies in Stoddard, Pemiscot, New Madrid, Scott, Dunklin and Laclede counties, The Kansas City Star reported.
The announcements contain similar wording, calling the decision a “huge concern” but that they were required to follow Schmitt’s “orders” until they receive direction from state health officials.
McDonald County Health Department officials said in a statement they will continue to report case numbers and call people who test positive for the virus to discuss recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Two departments covering four counties north of Kansas City — Daviess, Gentry, DeKalb and Worth — said they would no longer issue quarantine orders for schoolchildren, while Carroll County in north central Missouri said it would comply with the court decision. Several others said they were unsure how to proceed.
Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services officials haven’t publicly commented on Green’s ruling. Director Donald Kauerauf suggested in a letter to local health departments last week that they seek advice from attorneys.
On Tuesday, state health officials told local departments they were collecting questions about the court ruling to develop a “consistent and uniform response.”
Schmitt’s threat has sparked more opposition to COVID-19 orders in some school districts as well. The attorney general on Wednesday also urged parents to report districts with mask and quarantine rules to his office.
“There has been pushback throughout the year but this has definitely escalated it,” said Christine McDonald, spokeswoman for EducationPlus, a nonprofit representing 60 St. Louis area school districts.
School officials argue they have the authority under state law to implement health rules on campuses despite the ruling, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
McDonald citied a letter sent Thursday by the Missouri School Boards’ Association that says “school districts’ authority and obligation to prevent the spread of contagious diseases in schools has not been impacted.” The letter cites five state laws that the association says gives local school boards authority to make health and safety rules.
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