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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES -- Allowing Iowa school districts to continue enacting mask mandates, a federal judge has extended a restraining order for 14 more days against enforcing a state law that prohibits them.
The order, issued late Monday by U.S. District Judge Robert Pratt, extends his initial order from Sept. 13 until Oct. 11, which means school districts may impose mask mandates and the state cannot stop them. Pratt concluded that enforcement of the law continues to pose a threat to the health of children.
Documents filed in the case claim that nearly a quarter of Iowa public school students are in districts that have experienced significant COVID-19 outbreaks this year. The information indicates 11 school districts, including Waterloo, Sioux City and Muscatine, reported more positive cases in the first month of the school year than during the entire previous year.
The data was included in court documents made public this week by lawyers for 11 parents and the disability rights group The Arc of Iowa who are suing the state in federal court over the law.
The documents say 16 other school districts, including Marshalltown, Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, have already recorded coronavirus cases equivalent to 50 percent of the tally for the last school year.
The 27 school districts represent 24.5 percent of all Iowa public school students.
The court document cited local and state data and school information collected by Iowa COVID-19 Tracker, an online service that compiles data from government sources including school districts.
The documents said Van Buren County school district officials reported an average of six positive cases per day, a 128 percent increase from the average two weeks ago. For the week of Sept. 13, the district reported that 18 percent of its students were absent.
West Burlington School District's school nurse reported the district had almost as many COVID-19 positives in the elementary school in the first two weeks of the year as it had the entire previous school year. At the junior-senior high level, case numbers were triple those of last year.
Efforts to track outbreaks in schools have been hampered by policies implemented by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds in July that discontinued daily reporting of virus activity. In addition, Iowa is no longer providing widespread testing, leaving families to find their own tests if a child is exposed or symptomatic.
Reynolds has said she is adopting a policy in which the state treats COVID-19 like the flu, which means state officials have stopped investigating cases and contact tracing in schools. Reynolds earlier this year rejected more than $95 million in federal pandemic relief offered to Iowa to fund testing, contact tracing and other mitigation measures in schools. She said the state didn't need the money.
Reynolds' spokesman Alex Murphy said wearing masks should be a parental choice, and he repeated discredited information that masks can cause social, behavioral and speech development problems.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week that transmission rates in schools with universal masking were less than half those of schools without mask mandates. Another CDC study found that the odds of a school-associated COVID-19 outbreak were 3.5 times higher in schools with no mask requirement than in those with a mask requirement implemented when school started.
Iowa data shows a continuing surge in new cases and hospitalizations. Data posted Monday by the Iowa Department of Public Health indicated 12 children age 11 or younger were hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state. They were among the 641 Iowans being treated in hospitals for the virus. The report said 151 people were in intensive care.
Last week, the state public health department reported that more than 3,000 children had tested positive for COVID-19, more than a quarter of the state's 12,163 new reported cases in the previous seven days.
At least 24 school districts in the state have reinstated a mask mandate since Pratt initially issued the temporary restraining order on Sept. 13.