Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds is incentivizing school districts with looser quarantine guidelines if they increase mask-wearing, but remains adamant about not enforcing facial coverings in the state.
During a press conference Tuesday morning, Reynolds and Iowa medical director Dr. Caitlin Pedati outlined recent Iowa Department of Public Health adjustments to quarantine guidelines which state that close contacts of COVID-positive cases will no longer need to quarantine for 14 days if a face covering was consistently worn by both parties during the exposure.
The adjustment will “keep everyone in the classroom,” according to Reynolds, who said the guidelines are only a recommendation and not a mandate, just like her suggestion that school districts wear masks.
“This is an incentive to get them to do it. This is what the superintendents are asking for. I think it’s a great effort that we can put in place to provide them the flexibility to move in that direction,” Reynolds said on Tuesday morning.
“[Mask wearing is] not a mandate. And this new guidance is not a mandate, it’s guidance. So schools will have the ability to decide whether they’re going to practice this or not.”
Both Reynolds and Pedati indicated that the guideline changes came about after conversations with school administrators across the state who were frustrated with high quarantine metrics.
“Despite their commitment to implementing layered mitigation strategies to protect the health of their students and teachers and staff and to keep everyone in the classroom, in some situations they’re having to quarantine a disproportionately high number of students when just a few positive cases have been identified,” Reynolds said.
Adjustments to current quarantine recommendations came after IDPH looked at data from Sioux County, an “area that’s, unfortunately, experiencing increased community spread right now,” and were able to compare a district that was using face coverings to three districts that were not, according to Pedati.
The three districts that did not make use of these face coverings actually saw a 30-130% higher rates of new COVID cases, she said.
“We don’t frequently see additional infections in situations where people have been wearing face coverings,” Pedati said.
The CDC currently recommends that individuals who have been in close contact should quarantine even if they’re wearing face coverings, and the new guidance has already seen some pushback in the state.
“Unfortunately, Governor Reynolds newest recommendations are not consistent with what the scientific community continues to tell us about protecting ourselves, our students and our communities from COVID-19,” said ISEA President Mike Beranek in a statement.
“Weeks into the school year, we are once again grappling with cloudy information that has no basis in science. At the very least, the guidance should come with mandatory face coverings statewide, including continued social distancing and other mitigation efforts designed to promote health and safety in our public schools.”
When questioned on her admittal of masks’ efficacy despite a continuation of no mandate, Reynolds said she “believed Iowans are doing the right thing.” Currently, the state is seeing spikes in hospitalizations and significant case increases in several corners of the state.
“I have to put some trust in the superintendents that are running these schools and the school board and they know it’s in their best interest to do it right and so I’m assuming their working with their team and their staff,” Reynolds said. “They want this to work, they want their kids to be safe, we’ve got to believe they’re doing the right thing. I do think they’re doing the right thing. And honestly, I think the numbers are proving that.”
by Isabella Murray
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