O'FALLON, Mo. (AP) — Nearly three-quarters of public school students in Missouri have the option to attend classes in person this fall, according to data posted Tuesday by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Missouri’s 518 school districts and 36 public charter schools are taking varying approaches as they balance educational needs with the desire to protect students, teachers and staff from the coronavirus. The school year begins as Missouri is nearing 100,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases. As of Tuesday, the state had reported 95,113 confirmed cases and 1,661 deaths.

The state education department website shows that the most common option provides for onsite learning but also allows students to opt out and attend classes virtually. Data shows that 40.3% of the state’s 878,627 public school students are in districts operating under that plan. DESE spokeswoman Mallory McGowin said it isn't yet known how many of those students are opting for virtual learning.

Another 22.5% of students attend schools that blend onsite and virtual learning, and 11.2% attend classes in person with no virtual option.

The remaining 26% of students are in schools with virtual-only classes. Most of those schools are in areas hit hard by the pandemic, mostly in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas but also in Columbia and a few rural districts.

The state is not yet tracking the number of K-12 students who have tested positive for COVID-19, but DESE and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services are working together to eventually capture that information, McGowin said.

UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI-FACE COVERINGS

University of Missouri students, faculty, staff and visitors must now wear face coverings at all times while on campus -- both indoors and outside, and even while alone.

The university announced new requirements Tuesday. The campus in Columbia has reported 1,102 cases of the coronavirus since classes resumed last month, though most of the illnesses have been mild or with no symptoms.

University of Missouri System President and MU Chancellor Mun Y. Choi cited “behaviors we’re seeing on campus and the guidance of public health experts” as the reasons for the stricter guidelines.

The guidelines allow exceptions for when people are exercising. People who remove masks to eat or drink must immediately put them back on once they’re finished.

DEATH DATA

Over the weekend, the state health department added 89 COVID-19 deaths that occurred weeks and months ago to its running total. Most of the deaths were from the summer, but two were in April and three were in May.

Spokeswoman Lisa Cox said the deaths had been unaccounted for due to input errors when workers — some at local departments, some with the state — simply failed to click a box verifying the cause of death. She said additional training is planned to avoid similar mistakes going forward.

TOUGH TIME FOR MALLS

The economic fallout from the virus continues to haunt many businesses, including those at malls and shopping centers. The Kansas City Star reported that several stores have closed locations since March at the popular County Club Plaza, which has more than two dozen empty storefronts.

Mall leaders say Kansas City-area customers are growing more comfortable with shopping now that stay-home orders have lifted. But they also say shopping patterns have changed and few stores have seen sales bounce back to levels pre-pandemic levels.