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Some Iowa schools shift mask, quarantine requirements with vaccine for children 5 and up
Many will no longer require masks after winter break
School mask and quarantine requirements in some Eastern Iowa schools are changing next month with the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine for people 5 years and older.
Vaccination is the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC still recommends indoor masking for all individuals age 2 years and older, including students, teachers, staff and visitors in school buildings.
Whether Iowa is allowed to put in place a law signed by the Iowa Legislature and Gov. Reynolds that last year prohibited local school district from imposing mask mandates is up to an appeals court.
In September, a group of parents of students with disabilities said the law violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. A ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Pratt agreed, saying the state law “excludes disabled children from participating in and denies them the benefits of public schools’ programs, services, and activities to which they are entitled.” In November, the state argued to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eight Circuit, but the issues has been decided.
One of the things that has changed since the original ruling was entered is that the age for COVID-19 vaccination is now 5.
Masks will still be required on school buses to comply with federal requirements.
The Linn-Mar Community School District will no longer require masks in buildings when students return from winter break Jan. 3.
In September, the school board voted to require masks for students in prekindergarten through sixth grade.
This requirement was to remain in effect until a COVID-19 vaccine was widely available for children. The board set an end date to the mask requirement of 60 days after the children’ vaccine was approved by the CDC.
Students in the College Community School District also will no longer be required to wear masks in buildings at any grade level beginning after winter break on Jan. 3.
But if a school building reaches a threshold of more than 2 percent of students testing positive for COVID-19 and 8 percent absence because of illness, masks will be required for a limited time.
The district also will discontinue sending notification of potential exposure to individual students in secondary schools, grades 7-12. College Community school nurses, administrators and teaching staff have participated in thorough contact tracing throughout the pandemic.
“We are now at a point where we can, with confidence, modify our practices in secondary schools after winter break,” according to a school information and update letter from December.
Masks are still required to be worn for students in the Iowa City Community School Districts.
However, the district will no longer require students to quarantine if exposed to COVID-19 in a school setting. This also means there is no longer a need for contact tracing in school.
“Quarantine has limited effectiveness when students continue to socialize, which we know is happening,” according to a letter from Johnson County Public Health officials to the school board on Dec. 2. Public health does recommend people to quarantine if they are a close contacts in a household.
Contact tracing and quarantine may be reinstated if there is an outbreak.
Earlier this month, the Mount Vernon school board voted to end its current mask mandate Dec. 31.
If 2 percent of students in a school building tested positive for COVID-19 and the overall absence because of illness reaches 8 percent for three consecutive school days, a temporary mask mandate would be reinstated in that building.
Since most preschool students are not yet eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, district officials are still discussing how to address mask wearing in those classrooms.
Cedar Rapids is aligning four metrics with its policy. Until all of the metrics are met, the mask requirement will stay in place unless the courts rule for the fate of the mask policy.
New variant in Iowa
Earlier this month, a new COVID-19 variant — omicron — was detected in Iowa. Early reports indicate omicron is fast moving, but a booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine offers protection against the variant.
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