Iowa schools are starting. Kids and teachers are in the classroom, not because they want to be there, but because Gov. Kim Reynolds has forced them there.
The state has mandated that Iowa schools begin classes in-person 50 percent of the time in core subjects. Schools can opt out if they experience 10 percent absenteeism and if their district has a COVID-19 test positivity rate of 15 percent. Polk and Johnson county schools sued to begin online, but two recent court rulings have decided in favor of the state.
While parents and teachers and children may have their back-to-school supplies, the state isn’t ready. There is no effective, accessible testing, no transparent data reporting, a lack of contact tracers, and children and teachers are walking into a pandemic armed with nothing but pencils and cotton masks.
About 2.7 percent of Iowa’s children are uninsured, and the Test Iowa testing program is the only widespread testing available. But it has been plagued with problems — such as delayed and inconclusive test results, and inaccessibility. And many primary care doctors are not testing children who do not display all the symptoms.
Other testing options are cropping up around the state such as testing through some Hy-Vee stores. But besides these options, schools are left without a comprehensive testing plan. Additionally, the state is not collecting or reporting data on outbreaks in schools, which leaves the community in the dark, and parents without answers to questions of safety.
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Study after study has shown that children can get sick from COVID-19, and while they are hospitalized due to the virus at lower rates than adults, they can be asymptomatic spreaders — transmitting the virus throughout the community and to higher-risk populations.
Without effective testing in our schools or reporting on outbreaks, our back-to-school plan is inadequate to fully track and control the spread of COVID-19 in our state.
Additionally, the state has only 350 contact tracers, far below the thousands recommended by federal agencies.
School is a necessary lifeline for so many children and families, which is all the more reason for our governor and health department to institute the testing, tracking and reporting that we need to continue to make our schools a safe place.
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