Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on Thursday announced new guidance aimed at keeping more kids, teachers and staff in school, even those who have been exposed to the coronavirus, citing concerns that quarantines interrupt learning and create staff shortages.

Currently, anyone in a K-12 setting who is directly exposed to the coronavirus must quarantine for 14 days. The new guidance does not require quarantining if both the infected person and the person exposed wore masks.

The change comes as the virus continues to surge, with Missouri reporting 4,603 confirmed new cases Thursday, 16 more deaths and a record 2,248 people in hospitals. The state has cited 225,371 confirmed cases and 3,339 deaths since the pandemic began. The current positivity rate of 22.4% is more than four times the benchmark recommended by the World Health Organization.

Missouri has no statewide mask mandate, and the state does not require masks in schools although some districts do.

Parson, a Republican, reiterated Thursday that he opposes a statewide mask requirement. But he said state officials believe the guidance change “will lead to more schools encouraging proper mask usage, helping to further protect students and educators from the spread of the virus.”

The new guidance still requires the person who tests positive to isolate at home. Meanwhile, those who have close contact with an infected person at a school without a mask mandate should continue to require 14 days of home quarantine.

Parson acknowledged that COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have risen in recent weeks “more than we ever thought they would. That is the hard fact of where this virus is going.”

Parson allowed the state to reopen in mid-June. He often urges personal responsibility but has declined to issue statewide restrictions. He cited his overwhelming election victory on Nov. 3 as evidence that residents agreed with his approach.

“But I’m here to tell you this to all my Missourians: It is time we’ve got to step up,” Parson said. “We’ve got to do our part to protect one another. No government’s going to do that for you. You have to take that upon yourself.