116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
It’s disappointing but not surprising that the Cedar Rapids Community School District and other Eastern Iowa districts will no longer notify families of coronavirus cases at school. The rapidly spreading omicron variant has made county-level contact tracing efforts ineffective, thus dealing a blow to the ability to produce accurate school case counts.
“At this level of community transmission, persons must assume that there is a risk of exposure each time a person leaves their home,” Johnson County Public Health Director Danielle Pettit-Majewski said in a letter to the Iowa City Community School District, according to The Gazette’s Grace King. “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.
Pettit-Majewski urged students and staff to wear masks and get full vaccinated to lessen the impact of losing contract tracing data.
Cedar Rapids district leaders have, to their credit, adjusted the bench marks for continuing mask mandates. They’ll use vaccination rates and test positivity rates to decide when masking requirements would be dropped.
But once again, parents and students are flying blind in murky uncertainty.
When the pandemic began nearly two years ago, schools were closed and families had to rapidly adjust to the challenges of remote learning. Students returned to classes in the fall of 2020 under a state edict that schools provide in-person learning. Virus mitigation clearly was not a priority. That left local districts’ hands tied as they tried to adjust to local pandemic conditions.
In 2021, the Legislature banned school mask mandates in the middle of the night, leaving parents to grapple with the change in the morning. Then a federal court put the law on hold. Some districts returned to mandates. Many did not.
State COVID data reporting has been reduced. Controlling public perception of the pandemic’s severity trumped the need for parents to have good information to make important decisions for their child’s safety. That lack of good data rippled down to counties.
Now families are getting even less. Instead of creating a cooperative system between the state, local public health departments and schools to coordinate information, testing and mitigation efforts, school COVID became a political football that’s been fumbled.
Kids and parents have been let down at every level by a lack of awareness and cooperation on the part of governmental entities, and resistance to revealing the true picture. It may be too late to fix the COVID mess, but we must be far better prepared to respond to the next public health crisis.
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