JOHNSTON, Iowa (WHO) – Governor Kim Reynolds is urging Webster County school districts to still welcome kids back to class despite their state-leading COVID-19 positivity rate because of the source of those cases.
According to the state’s COVID-19 tracking website, Webster County has a 14-day average positivity rate of 22% among those who’ve been tested. Last month the governor set a threshold of 15% average positivity for schools to apply to go to online-only learning, along with 10% absenteeism among students. However the governor emphasized on Thursday that meeting those thresholds is just the start of the waiver process. She says Webster County is a perfect example of that.
“Webster County today has a 22 percent average,” Reynolds said in her bi-weekly press conference, “They have an outbreak at the state prison and that is in a completely contained environment.”
More than 300 inmates at Ford Dodge Correctional Facility have tested positive for COVID-19. Nearly all of them are now considered recovered. Three inmates died after testing positive. 32 staff members, who presumably live in the nearby communities, have also tested positive. 28 of them are considered recovered.
Reynolds said the Department of Education, with assistance from the Iowa Department of Public Health, would take factors like the prison outbreak into consideration if a Webster County school would apply for a waiver. She says the numbers don’t “always give a complete picture which is why community context will be so important for schools to consider.” Reynolds says state officials must consider the amount of community spread, not just the raw number of cases.
There are seven counties in the state as of Thursday that exceed the state’s 15% threshold: Clarke, Emmet, Franklin, Humboldt, Shelby and Webster. Governor Reynolds says any schools that do apply for waivers will be considered individually, but as for Webster County she has a suggestion.
“Webster County? Yes, I think they should make every effort to get those kids back to school,” Reynolds said, “I’ve listed so many reasons about why it is so important and I believe we can do this safely and responsibly.” The governor offered the example of summer football practices that are already underway as proof that it is possible to safely bring kids together again.
Dr. Ann Lebo, Director of the Iowa Department of Education, and Dr. Caitlin Pedati, the State Epidemiologist, both reasserted the governor’s message on the 15% threshold. Lebo says all decisions will be made in concert with IDPH after a review of community context. Pedati says the thresholds are a “starting point” for a conversation and says guidelines may have to change as the school year progresses. Governor Reynolds says that willingness to adjust is key to successfully returning to learn.
“We have to be flexible. We have to know that we may need to go online temporarily and we need to be ready to do that,” the governor said, “But I believe we should all do everything we can to get our schools back open as safely and responsibly as we can.”
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