116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
With kids back in classrooms for the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, public health officials are encouraging everyone in schools to wear a mask, get vaccinated against COVID-19 if eligible, quarantine if exposed to the virus and get tested.
The Gazette sat down with Linn County Public Health clinical branch supervisor Heather Meador and Johnson County Public Health disease prevention specialist Jennifer Miller to get advice on how to go back to school as safely as possible.
As of Aug. 30, Cedar Rapids schools were reporting 20 students and six staff who tested positive for COVID-19 across 13 of the districts 32 schools. Iowa City schools were reporting 23 students and six staff who tested positive for COVID-19, and an additional 32 students and six staff in quarantine from exposure. The first day of school was Aug. 23.
Q: What do you expect to see in schools this fall with the spread of COVID-19?
Meador: Last year what we saw was schools with those layered mitigation approaches (masks, social distancing and enhanced sanitation) did not see a lot of transmission among students. It is worrisome when we see students crowded together in an indoor space without wearing masks. The delta variant has changed the game. It’s highly transmissible.
We encourage parents to keep their children home when they’re ill. The symptoms of COVID-19 are so vast and varied — sore throat, headache, fever, body aches, vomiting, diarrhea. If your child is not at their normal health status and feeling sick, please keep your child at home and consider getting a COVID-19 test.
Miller: We certainly could reach a place that, because of the amount of illness, schools close. If teachers get sick and you don’t have teachers to teach the classes, you can’t have school.
Q: How can masking help slow the spread of COVID-19 in schools?
Meador: We learned a lot last year … Social distancing, staying in cohorts, universal appropriate mask use, staying home when you’re ill, washing your hands often, good ventilation, all of those things together help to keep our kids healthy. Mask use is one of those that helps reduce
Everyone, vaccinated or not, who is over 2 years old, should wear a mask.
Q: When do you need to quarantine?
Meador: According to (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidance, which is what we follow, if you are within 6 feet of an individual for 15 minutes or longer who has tested positive for COVID-19, whether you’re masked or unmasked, we would want you to quarantine. If you are vaccinated, we would not recommend quarantine but we would recommend you self-monitor for 14 days for any symptoms of illness.
Q: When should parents or guardians get their kids tested for COVID-19 and how do they go about doing so?
Meador: If a student is symptomatic or has been in close contact to someone with COVID-19, we would suggest that parent contact their pediatrician or family doctor to talk about the student getting tested.
(Linn County Public Health, 1020 Sixth St. SE, Cedar Rapids, is) a pick up site for free Test Iowa kits in the main lobby. It’s a saliva test, so you spit in to this tube, seal it up and mail it to the State Hygienic Lab.
Q: Where can parents get their kids 12 years old and older vaccinated? Do you suggest this?
Meador: Yes, we highly encourage anyone eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. We’re also coming up on flu season — get the flu vaccine and COVID-19 vaccine at the same time at your local pharmacy or doctor’s office.
Q: Do you think wearing a mask detracts students from learning?
Miller: There are some children for whom it would be more difficult, and I think you have to balance that with the knowledge that masking perhaps allows you to not get sick. Masking perhaps allows you to not need to quarantine. It allows you to stay in school.
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