For months, Hardin County school boards have debated whether to keep their mask mandates, which were put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19, or yield to a growing chorus of demands to repeal them. Many of those debates were silenced Friday when, without warning, the Iowa Department of Public Health issued new guidance that changes rules around quarantine protocol, clearing the way for schools to make masks and other face coverings optional for students and staff.

The state distributed the new guidance Friday afternoon via a letter from Iowa Department of Public Health Interim Director Kelly Garcia. Before Friday, IDPH guidance stated that anyone exposed to a COVID-19-positive individual while not wearing a mask had to quarantine for 10 days. Under the new guidance, no quarantine is required, regardless of mask usage and exposure. Only the person who tests positive will have to stay home from school. Parents of students who were exposed will be provided with information about COVID-19, but they’ll be allowed to make their own decisions about whether to get tested, stay home or continue to attend school.

Rocky Damiano

Rocky Damiano, a parent and coach in the district, spoke at the Iowa Falls School Board meeting on Monday, May 10, 2021. He advocated for making masks optional, saying "As parents, we feel we have less and less rights in the school."

Hubbard-Radcliffe Breanne Butler

Eldora-New Providence School District parent Breanne Butler spoke to members of the E-NP and Hubbard-Radcliffe school boards during a special joint meeting on Monday, May 17, 2021. Butler accused the districts of "requiring students to bear the burden of controlling a disease of which they face little to no risk."

(3) comments

Marian Kuper

We now know that children who catch COVID-19, even if they exhibit no symptoms of the disease, are extraordinarily susceptible to blood vessel damage as a result of harboring the virus. It’s short-sighted and medically problematic for schools to eliminate mask mandates now, which is a one reason the CDC’s clarification issued on May 15th recommended that schools keep mask mandates in place for what remains of this school year.

Sarah Hensley

I just spent some time reading the study from December 2020. It does not conclude that covid-positive children are “extraordinarily susceptible to blood vessel damage,” but that they have an elevated level of a biomarker that has no known implications in the pediatric population in the context of COVID-19. Further, the study states that the “healthy children” that were used as control subjects were all *patients being evaluated for a bleeding disorder.* Call me crazy, but if they are comparing the bloodwork of kids who’ve had covid to the bloodwork of healthy kids that are being evaluated for a bleeding disorder, we still know nothing about how their levels of this biomarker compares to actual healthy children (not being evaluated for a bleeding disorder) or children who have recently had some other virus.

Sarah Hensley

While the IDPH guidance did follow the CDC’s May 13 announcement, it was not issued because of it. In the letter the IDPH sent to schools, it said, “Our response today does not, and should not, look the same as it did a year ago. In fact, yesterday the CDC announced updated guidance rolling back mask usage for adults. Our guidance is also evolving as we learn more information. This evolution allows people to hone in on what is risky and what is not- which ultimately keeps our collective public health response strong.”

It contained an acknowledgement that the CDC announcement was *for adults*, therefore the IDPH’s decision for school children was based on something else, and also acknowledged that the goal is to safeguard children from harm and foster inclusion. This speaks volumes to what the mask requirement and quarantine protocol were actually doing; causing harm and division. I know that at least in Iowa Falls, the school was aware of this but still unwilling to lift the requirement. I am so thankful that the IDPH was willing to look into the real-life effects of the covid response, and urge schools to stop immediately, rather than holding out for the arbitrary finish line of the last day of school, as if there is something to be proud of for making it to the end of the school year with a mask requirement.

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