On the day Iowa reported its most positive cases of COVID-19 in a single day, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced she was mandating that schools meet in person.
The questions of how to have school in a pandemic has flummoxed state officials, school districts, parents and teachers. Schools submitted “return to learn” plans July 1, only to have those upended by the governor’s recent announcement that in-person learning must be the priority.
The state’s guidelines are vague and districts are scrambling. But not included in the plans are any clear directions for COVID-19 testing for students.
Testing for COVID-19 in Iowa has been rife with problems. At first, the state, like many others, lacked supplies. With the rollout of the Test Iowa initiative, the supplies have increased but failed to meet the demand. And now, as Iowa sees yet another rise in cases, one that is predicted to continue through the start of school and into fall, sending kids to school will only increase that demand for testing.
Early research indicates that children often are asymptomatic spreaders of the virus, meaning they can have no detectable symptoms, but still pass along the virus to higher-risk adults. As a result, testing is more effective than screening in determining whether a child should be present at school.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is not recommending that schools test all staff and students for COVID-19, the reality is that if a classroom is infected, parents will need to test their children. And in Iowa, many care providers now administer a test only if an individual is in a high-risk category or a front-line worker.
For students and their families who might qualify, cost will become a factor.
How often should a student be tested once they’re exposed? How often should teachers be tested?
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Again, Test Iowa is an option. But Iowans are having a difficult time accessing testing times, and testing backlogs have prevented timely reporting.
The Iowa Department of Health told The Gazette through a spokesperson that they were looking to expand testing sites. But as the state continues to stay open and the case counts rise, sending children back to school in person will only continue to add pressure onto an already broken and overwhelmed system.
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