University of Missouri Board Says No to Mask Mandate, Argues It Won't Stop COVID Spread

Students at University of Missouri schools will not be required to wear masks after the governing board rejected a request by the system's president to initiate a mandate on campus.

The Board of Curators rejected President Mun Choi's mask recommendations, including one that would have required masks in public buildings, classrooms, laboratories and offices when social distancing wasn't possible.

They also denied Choi's request to consider a mandate that would strongly encourage masks in indoor spaces such as classrooms and labs from January 18 to February 13., which they also denied.

Choi said all four-year universities in Missouri have a mask requirement except for the University of Missouri in Columbia and Missouri Southern State University in Joplin.

"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.

Columbia and Boone Country do not have mask mandates, and the curators were skeptical that a mask mandate would help curb the spread of the contagious Omicron variant.

"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?"

Spring classes are scheduled to start next week, and the university plans to recommend wearing masks in indoor spaces.

The university reported that 163 students and 66 staff members are COVID positive. According to the university's dashboard, the number of active student cases is the highest seen during the 2021-22 school year.

University pf Missouri Mask Mandate
Students will not be required to wear masks when they return for the spring semester at the University of Missouri in Columbia. Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images

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

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

A clinic at the Truman Sports Complex in Kansas City tested more than 1,000 people on Monday, running out of appointment spaces for Tuesday and Wednesday.

"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 at the clinic and a lab that evaluates the tests.

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

"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 January 1 and 4, when the program was paused to determine how to respond to the demand.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.