CORONAVIRUS

Iowa rules set high hurdle for online-only classes when schools reopen

Gov. Kim Reynolds: 'We need to keep the next generation learning'

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds listens to a question during a news conference Thursday in Des Moines on the state's guidance for
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds listens to a question during a news conference Thursday in Des Moines on the state's guidance for returning to school in response to the coronavirus outbreak. (Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

In releasing new guidance for schools Thursday, Gov. Kim Reynolds said districts could petition the state to offer solely online learning this fall only if coronavirus cases in their communities are strongly surging — a hurdle higher than any Iowa county currently meets.

The governor doubled down on her proclamation earlier this month that at least half of core classes be in person.

“We need to keep the next generation learning, growing and preparing for a bright future,” Reynolds said in a news conference. “Online learning is an essential component of that, but it can’t make up the critical role our schools play in the development of social and emotional skills our children rely on.”

Reynolds cited U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams saying on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” that schools in communities with a less than a 10 percent positivity rate of COVID-19 tests should reopen schools.

Rules announced Thursday, though, set the threshold higher in Iowa. Reynolds would allow exceptions to in-person classes only if counties have coronavirus positivity rates of 15 to 20 percent over a two-week period — and if at least 10 percent of students are absent.

As of Thursday afternoon, no Iowa county was above a 15 percent daily threshold, according to state data. Humboldt County was the highest at 13 percent.

The daily ratio of all tests that came back positive was 6.37 percent in Linn County and 8.03 percent in Johnson County.

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The statewide average positivity rate has been 15 percent or higher on only two days since early June.

The Iowa Department of Education is sending out a survey to school districts asking about their personal protective equipment needs, and the state is supplying an initial 30 days worth of equipment, Reynolds said.

“Children are not driving the pandemic and transmission from students to students and (to) teachers has been low,” Reynolds said. “With proper resources, we can reopen safely, protecting students, teachers, staff and families.”

Reopening schools

If a school reaches 10 percent absence for students in in-person learning and the average county positivity rate for the coronavirus over a 14 day period is between 15 and 20 percent, a school district can request to close a school building or district for up to 14 days.

Under the state rules, only the Education Department and Iowa Department of Public Health can provide temporary authorization to move to 100 percent online or remote learning — not the local district.

State Epidemiologist Caitlin Pedati said that in the United States, children under 18 years old make up 6 percent of reported positive cases.

“Children in Iowa are not the primary drivers of this pandemic,” Pedati said at the news conference. “Children are less likely to become infected and appear to have a less severe illness.”

Reynolds said that while students have been out of school since mid-March, positive cases of the coronavirus in day cares has been low.

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“Where we’re going to have problems is from educator to educator for adults. That’s where the spread is more likely to occur,” Reynolds said.

Contact tracing

If a student, teacher or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, the local public health department is supposed to be notified.

Public health workers will conduct contact tracing, and anyone who came in close contact with the person who tested positive will be recommended to quarantine for 14 days.

The Health Department defines someone as having close contact as anyone who has been within 6 feet for more than 15 minutes with someone who has tested positive during the infectious period.

If no symptoms develop, students can return to school 14 days from their last contact with person who tested positive for COVID-19.

If there are symptoms, they should contact their health care provider.

Staff members who came in contact with a COVID-19 positive person can return to work if there are staffing shortages as long as they remain asymptomatic, under the rules.

EVALUATING SICK STUDENTS: Here’s the documentation shared by the state on what schools should do if students or staff are sick

Governor holding regular news conferences

Beginning next week, Reynolds is resuming twice-a-week news conferences on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11 a.m.

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RE-WATCH: Watch a replay of Reynolds’ news conference on Thursday

Comments: (319) 398-8411; grace.king@thegazette.com

Erin Murphy of The Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau contributed.

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