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Missouri's new health czar lamented that the pandemic had become so embroiled in politics as another child died of COVID-19 and the virus sickened record numbers of youths.

Donald Kauerauf, who began serving three weeks ago as the director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, told lawmakers Tuesday that "we failed, as a nation, public health because we got to this point," the Springfield News-Leader reports.

In emergency planning, Kauerauf said, you plan for the "absolutely worst" scenario — but "we didn't plan for this reaction from the public." And he said it was crucial to retool the public message as he works toward a goal of getting around 80% of the state's residents vaccinated. Currently, 52.8% have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, state data shows.

"We've got to start something new," Kauerauf said.

The state just ended what is shaping up to be one of the deadliest months of the pandemic. Data lags by several weeks, but COVID-19 deaths in Missouri have already reached 878 in the five weeks that span August — more than triple the numbers seen this past spring, before the highly infections delta variant took hold, according to state data analyzed by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Hospital officials hope the number of deaths will start to drop, as cases and hospitalizations have shown signs of easing. Statewide, the average number of COVID-19 hospitalizations dropped to 1,999 after a peak of 2,417 on Aug. 20, according to the latest data.

Recent deaths include a child who died last week in the St. Louis area, the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force announced Tuesday. No other details were released, including the child's age and whether the child had underlying health conditions, the Post-Dispatch reports.

The death brings the total number of Missouri children younger than 18 who have died from COVID-19 to six, according to state health department spokeswoman Lisa Cox.

This summer saw nearly 34,000 cases among children, more than four times the number from last summer, according to an analysis released Tuesday by the Missouri Hospital Association. And the state set a single day record for child cases on Sept. 7 with 1,133 positive test results.

Some local health departments in the St. Louis area have reported that up to a third of new cases are among children.

Dr. Clay Dunagan, chief clinical officer for BJC HealthCare, blamed the increasing number of cases among children on the delta variant and schools not taking steps to reduce spread such as requiring masks. Children younger than 12 aren't yet eligible for vaccines, and vaccination rates among teens lag behind that of adults.

"That really puts kids in harm's way," Dunagan said.

In southeast Missouri, some parents of students in the Jackson School District told school board members Tuesday that they were concerned about a policy that recommends, but doesn't require, that students and staff wear masks, the Southeast Missourian reports.

Forty Jackson students have COVID-19, according to associate superintendent Jessica Maxwell. Maxwell said the district has quarantined 268 students in total.

This article was updated throughout at 12:37 p.m. Sept. 15, 2021, with quotes from the state health czar, more statistics, and details from Missouri school board meeting.

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