On Thursday, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced the standards that will determine whether schools must have all in-person instruction, can use a hybrid model incorporating both in-person and online instruction, or move all classes online. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, a former school teacher, announced his state’s school reopening plan that same day. The two states are taking very different approaches.
This isn’t surprising, as they have consistently taken different approaches to containing and mitigating the spread of COVID-19.
Walz, a member of the Minnesota Democratic-Farm-Labor Party, issued a stay-at-home order that took effect on March 28, which was not lifted until May 18. Iowa never had a stay-at-home order, although Reynolds has insisted many of the regulations she issued during the first months of pandemic were the functional equivalent of such an order.
Minnesota has moved more slowly than Iowa in lifting COVID-19 restrictions and reopening the state. Minnesota permitted cities to mandate face coverings in public — 16 cities did — and on July 23, a statewide face covering mandate went into effect. Reynolds has repeatedly said a face covering mandate is not needed in Iowa, and maintains that cities and counties cannot order such mandates.
According to the New York Times coronavirus database, Minnesota had a total of 966 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents as of Saturday morning, and Iowa had a total of 1,418 cases per 100,000 residents. During the last seven days, Minnesota had 88 cases per 100,000 residents and Iowa had 105 cases per 100,000 residents.
On Thursday, Reynolds announced that schools will be expected to offer all in-person instruction until a county has a 14-day rolling average of 15 percent or higher positivity in its COVID-19 tests and there is a 10 percent absentee rate among students, before a district can request permission to either switch to a hybrid model of instruction — which would combine both in-person and online classes — or all online instruction for 14 days.
World Health Organization guidance states communities should not move forward with reopening activities until they have an average positivity rate of 5 percent or lower for 14 days. (The positivity rate is the percentage of people tested who are confirmed as having COVID-19.)
The standards prepared by the Iowa Department of Education (DOE) in conjunction with the Iowa Department of Public Health defines a 14-day positivity rate average of 6 to 14 percent as “minimal to moderate.” A 14-day average of 15 to 20 percent is considered “substantially controlled” for school planning purposes, according to DOE. An average positivity rate over 14 days qualifies as “substantially uncontrolled” by DOE, provided there are also “concerns” about a county’s “healthcare resource capacity.”
Even when a county meets the DOE threshold for substantially uncontrolled virus spread, a school district will still have to apply to the department for permission to switch to all online instruction. DOE says it will respond to those requests “within 48 hours, not including weekends.”
In Minnesota it will be up to each school district to decide whether to use an all in-person, hybrid or all online model of instruction, Walz announced on Thursday. Districts will also be free to switch between models, when they feels it necessary to do so.
Minnesota did issue guidance for school districts to use when deciding what model of instruction to use. The guidance doesn’t use average positivity rates. Instead it relies on the number of new cases per 10,000 residents reported in a county over a 14-day period.
0 – 10 cases per 10,000 residents: In-person learning for all students
10 – 20 cases per 10,000 residents: Elementary schools in-person, middle/high schools hybrid
20 – 30 cases per 10,000 residents: Both hybrid
30 – 50 cases per 10,000 residents: Elementary school hybrid, middle/high schools distance
50+ cases per 10,000 residents: Both distance
If a school goes to a hybrid or all online model, it will have to provide free childcare for the school-age children of essential workers.
In keeping with the statewide face covering mandate, face coverings will be required in Minnesota schools. The state will provide face masks for students and teachers, and some teachers will also receive plastic face shields.
The state will also be issuing COVID-19 testing supplies to schools so teachers who believe they may have been exposed to the virus can be tested.
Families in Minnesota will be able to choose an all online education option for the school year. Iowa families have that same option.
“Students, when we think about this decision, we’re very, very clear about our goals,” Walz said when he announced the school reopening plan on Thursday. “Your safety and the ability to get you into classrooms to learn and have that experience, or to make sure whatever learning model we use is the best for you and you get the most out of it.”
Another 463 Iowans test positive
The Iowa Department of Public Health reported 463 more confirmed cases of COVID-19 during the 24-hour period ending at 10 a.m. on Saturday, increasing the total number of Iowans who have tested positive to 44,937.
The newly confirmed cases came from the 4,928 test results reported by IDPH between 10 a.m. on Friday and 10 a.m. on Saturday. The positivity rate for that group of results was 9.4 percent.
Among the cases reported during the 24-hour period ending at 10 a.m. on Saturday were 19 residents of Johnson County and 29 residents of Linn County. The positivity rate for the 232 tests reported for Johnson County was 8.2 percent, and Linn County’s 405 tests had a positivity rate of 7.2 percent.
A total of 1,887 Johnson County residents have now tested positive for the virus, as have 2,008 residents of Linn County.
IDPH also reported another seven deaths, bringing Iowa’s COVID-19 death toll to 872. A resident of Johnson County was one of the newly reported deaths. As of 10 a.m. on Saturday, there had been a total of 15 deaths reported in Johnson County and a total of 87 deaths reported in Linn County.
IDPH considers 32,802 of the 44,937 Iowans who have tested positive for COVID-19 since March 8 to be recovered, as of 10 a.m. on Saturday. The department considers anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 to be recovered after 28 days, unless it is informed otherwise.