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‘We are hanging by a thread’: Cedar Rapids officials call on governor to issue mask mandate; CRCSD gets waiver to move classes online

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Masks were available for individuals voting early in-person at the site inside Lindale Mall. Oct. 6, 2020. — Jessica Abdoney/Little Village

“Everything is increasing — the spread, the positive COVID cases, the hospitalizations, the deaths,” State Senator Liz Mathis said at the start of a virtual news conference on Thursday, the same day Linn County surpassed 10,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Mathis’ district, which includes Cedar Rapids, Marion, Robins, Hiawatha, Bertram, Ely and southern Linn County, has been hit particularly hard during the last few weeks as cases of the virus and hospitalizations continue to surge. Cases in Cedar Rapids are rising faster than any other metro area in the country, according to the New York Times.

The cases reported by Linn County Public Health in the first 12 days of November make up slightly more than one-third of the county’s total cases.

“I’m calling on the governor, again, to prevent more spread [and] to prevent more infections or death by enacting a statewide mask mandate — and do it now,” Mathis urged.

Throughout the pandemic, Gov. Kim Reynolds has repeatedly said she trusts Iowans to make their own choices of whether or not to wear a mask. When the state was experiencing an increase in cases in late August, Reynolds was asked if she plans to issue a statewide mandate. Her response was: “Oh no, I’m not doing that. I think I’ve made it very clear. Nope, not going to happen. It’s just not going to happen.”

On Tuesday, Reynolds signed a new emergency health proclamation that requires face masks to be worn but only at “social, community, recreational, leisure or sporting gatherings with more than 25 people indoors or 100 people outdoors.”

“Be sure to tell that to the germ because the virus doesn’t discriminate whether there are 25 or 100 people attending an event,” Mathis said about the governor’s most recent proclamation. “It gives equal opportunity to everyone. Masks should be worn in all conditions. This is called prevention.”

Cedar Rapids Community School District Superintendent Noreen Bush shared how the district’s students and staff have adapted to and followed the district’s mask requirement, adding that even the district’s youngest students are “masking up and shielding every single day.”

Even though students and staff are wearing masks and adopting safety measures, Bush said it’s not enough if the community isn’t taking the same measures. The community surge in positive cases has “greatly affected” staff members and students, Bush said.

“Just from our staff members alone, from the period of Oct. 26 to Nov. 9, there have been 356 absences from adults,” Bush said during the news conference. “There have been over 245 new open cases just from last week to this week for staff members who have been exposed to someone in our community who have tested positive. … At the start of this week, we had 57 new cases. Currently, we have 22 transportation staff members who are out.”

“We are hanging by a thread.”

CRCSD applied for a waiver from the Department of Education to move to district-wide remote instruction for two weeks due to the surge in cases and the increase in staff absenteeism. That waiver was approved on Thursday morning. Remote learning began on Thursday and will continue through Tuesday, Nov. 24. In-person instruction is scheduled to resume on Monday, Nov. 30, if another waiver is not requested.

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“We need our community’s help,” Bush said as she urged people in the community to wear masks.

“As we head into Thanksgiving, we will be faced with incredibly tough choices, being with extended family members who we don’t get to see every day. I am the youngest of seven children. I have faced cancer in the past six months, and I will not be seeing my siblings. I will not be seeing my mother on Thanksgiving Day so that I can offer in-person instruction to children in this community. Do your part. It is a unique and challenging year. We are desperate. We need your help.”

Linn County Public Health has put together fall and winter holiday guidance, which is in alignment with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, LCPH’s Clinical Services Supervisor Heather Meador said.

Meador mentioned that effective immediately LCPH will be using the CDC’s close contact definition when performing contact tracing instead of the broader definition from the Iowa Department of Public Health.

LCPH has also published recommended actions for individuals and businesses as cases of COVID-19 in the county reach “crisis stage.”

“At this time, we are recommending to require the use of masks or facial cloth coverings in public, to limit gatherings and social events to no more than 10 people,” Meador said. “We are recommending restaurants and bars exclusively offer carry-out service and to encourage all nonessential workers to work remotely. We are asking our community to implement these actions immediately in order to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 in the coming days and weeks.”


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