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Eastern Iowa schools stop notifying families, staff of positive COVID cases
Move comes after Linn, Johnson counties’ public health departments end contact tracing because of the enormous number of new cases
Eastern Iowa school districts no longer are notifying families of positive cases of the coronavirus in schools and classrooms after Linn and Johnson county public health departments ended contact tracing efforts.
The public health departments announced an end to COVID-19 contact tracing earlier this month because of the enormous number of new infections. Contact tracing efforts, they said, now likely are ineffective.
In a newsletter to families last week, the Cedar Rapids Community School District announced it is now using the following metrics to determine whether or not masks are required in schools:
- The student-aged vaccination rate from the state of Iowa, which was 48.3 percent for students in grades seven through 12 and 7.3 percent for students in kindergarten through sixth grade
- And the Linn County seven-day positivity rate, which was 40.1 percent as of Jan. 13.
For the Cedar Rapids Community School District to lift its mask mandate, 50 percent or more of K-12 students in Iowa need to be fully vaccinated, and Linn County’s seven-day COVID-19 positivity rate needs to be 14 percent or less.
A new Iowa law that prohibits school districts from imposing mask mandates is being challenged in an appeals court after a federal judge prevented the law from being enforced. If that restraining order is changed or lifted, masks will not be required.
Although the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention adjusted its isolation and quarantine guidance from 10 days to five, Cedar Rapids schools are continuing to require students who test positive for COVID-19 or are symptomatic to isolate for 10 days.
Symptomatic students may return to school before day 11 if they test negative for COVID-19 and never had a positive test and are fever free without medication for 24 hours. Symptomatic students also may return to school if they receive an alternate diagnosis from their health care provider.
Mount Vernon students can return to school after five days if they wear a mask consistently for days six to 10, per guidance from the CDC. Students also need to be symptom and fever free for 24 hours before returning to school.
In a message to families last week, Mount Vernon Superintendent Greg Batenhorst said the district is keeping a close eye on rising case numbers, including staff absences, which “is a key factor in being able to offer all our programs.”
“I know you are tired of the battle with the pandemic,” Batenhorst said. “Wearing a mask for days 6-10 allows our students to get back to school more quickly, where they can learn and be involved in school activities.
“I think it is reasonable for students to wear a mask for five days to be able to engage in learning and extracurricular activities they otherwise would miss if we were still following the 10-day quarantine guidelines,” he said.
In a letter to the Iowa City Community School District earlier this month, Johnson County Public Health Director Danielle Pettit-Majewski said the impact of no longer contact tracing in schools will be lessened if students and staff wear masks at all times and are full vaccinated and have received boosters if recommended.
“At this level of community transmission, persons must assume that there is a risk of exposure each time a person leaves their home,” Pettit-Majewski said. “The risk is especially high for those who spend the entire day in an indoors enclosed space without the ability to social distance, such as a school.
“Parents should behave as if their child may have been exposed each day and be diligent about symptom monitoring,” she said.
Students should not attend school if sick or have symptoms consistent with COVID-19, Pettit-Majewski said.
Thirty-one percent of people who test positive for COVID-19 remain actively infections after day five and the omicron variant — the dominant variant in Iowa — is up to three times more infections than the Delta variant, according to CDC data.
Linn and Johnson county public health departments have been conducting contact tracing for almost two years, since the virus first arrived in Iowa in March 2020.
The CDC recommends everyone should wear a mask in K-12 schools regardless of their vaccination status.
Masking, social distancing and routine cleaning also are encouraged to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
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