A coronavirus-induced staffing shortage has led to a change in mandate at Springfield Public Schools.

On Friday, the district released an open letter stating that all employees and visitors must wear face masks inside district facilities to protect against the latest wave of COVID-19.

SPS, which is closed today for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, returns tomorrow for in-person classes. With the return may come a reduced workforce and fewer students.

District officials in the letter said that on January 14, 20% of the SPS workforce and 19% of the student body were absent.

“Over multiple days this week, SPS documented more COVID-19 cases in a single day than the district had experienced in any previous seven-day period,” officials said in the letter. “Cases in our community are increasing and, as expected, the increase is impacting the learning environment.”

The letter states that “a transition to virtual learning for a limited period may be required for a classroom, grade level, or school building” depending on enrollment.

Although students are not required to wear face masks at SPS, it is recommended that they do, according to the letter.

The district plans to expand COVID testing sites and continue to follow protocols already communicated to families in December and early January. These include requiring masks on school buses.

At local higher education institutions, various masking policies are also in effect.

Officials at Ozarks Technical Community College and Drury and Evangel Universities have confirmed that masking is currently required for employees and students. MSU President Clif Smart wrote in a blog post last week that masking will also be needed when students and staff return tomorrow.