The Iowa Department of Public Health broke with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week, issuing new guidance about who should quarantine following a positive COVID-19 test.
The change was announced at Gov. Kim Reynolds’ press conference on Tuesday. Whereas before, any person who had been in close contact with a person who tests positive for COVID-19 was asked to quarantine and monitor for symptoms, now, as long as both people – the positive test and the close contact – were both wearing face coverings the entire time, the close contact will not have to quarantine. The new guidelines do not apply to health care or residential settings.
Reynolds said the change came after conversations with Iowa superintendents and with public health and government officials in Nebraska and Wyoming.
“A common frustration expressed to me was around guidelines for quarantining students and teachers who have been in contact with positive cases,” Reynolds said. “Despite their commitment to implementing layered mitigation strategies to protect the health of their students and teachers and staff and to keep everyone in the classroom, in some situations they’re having to quarantine a disproportionately high number of students when just a few positive cases have been identified.”
Dr. Caitlin Pedati, the state’s medical director, said research indicates that when people wear masks consistently and correctly, the chances of contracting COVID-19 decrease considerably.
Following the press conference, Iowa Falls and Alden Superintendent Tony Neumann sent a letter to families in the districts. It laid out the new guidelines, based on input from Greenbelt Home Care/Hardin County Public Health, saying that “there will potentially not be a need for the close contacts to quarantine” as the result of a positive COVID-19 tests. However, the letter also emphasized that the new guidelines apply to masks only – not other face coverings.
“We wanted to make everyone aware that anyone wearing a face shield or gaiter will not meet this new standard for not having to quarantine,” the letter states. “If the individual who tests positive is wearing a shield or gaiter instead of a mask, every close contact will mostly likely have to quarantine for 14 days.”
Iowa does not have a mask mandate. Iowa Falls and Alden schools require face coverings on students and employees in the building. The rule allows for masks, shields or gaiters to be used. The Iowa Falls School Board approved the rule in August. The Alden School Board is considering the issue at each month's meeting.
Whether a person has to quarantine and the length of that quarantine is determined by public health officials.
Rocky Reents, the public health coordinator at Greenbelt Home Care/Hardin County Public Health said she sent the new guidelines to the area school districts on Tuesday. She said people will still be asked to monitor for symptoms, but they may not be required to quarantine.
As of Friday morning, Hardin County had recorded a total of 317 COVID-19 cases, according to a report issued by Greenbelt Home Care/Hardin County Public Health. Of those, 250 people are classified as having recovered. One person has died. That leaves 66 Hardin County residents still infected with the disease.
Hardin County's school districts are issuing weekly reports on new COVID-19 cases. The reports don't distinguish between cases in students and staff. As of Monday this week, infection totals since the beginning of the school year a month ago were as follows:
- Iowa Falls-Alden: 4
- South Hardin: 2
- AGWSR: 8
- Ellsworth Community College: 12