COVID-19: State finally grants Iowa City schools another waiver, but ICCSD might not use it; another 2,057 Iowans test positive


On Friday afternoon, the Iowa Department of Education (DOE) granted the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) a waiver to continue with all-online classes next week as the number of new COVID-19 cases in Johnson County remains high. The district, however, said it will stick with its previously announced plan to resume its hybrid model of instruction on Monday.

ICCSD has made it a practice to provide parents and staff with several days of advance notice before changing its instructional model, so parents can make childcare arrangements and teachers can prepare appropriate lesson plans.

Students will be in the hybrid model, combining in-person and online instruction, for just five days, because Friday, Dec. 18, is the last day before the district’s winter break begins.

At the ICCSD Board of Directors meeting on Tuesday, interim Superintendent Matt Degner told the board he had attempted to apply for a waiver that would cover the next week, but had been told by the DOE to wait, because the rate of new COVID-19 cases in the county was trending down. So the district staff planned to return the hybrid model for the week of Dec. 14.

The board instructed Degner to apply again, in case the rate of new cases in the county spiked. The waiver request approved by DOE on Friday afternoon was submitted by the district on Wednesday.

DOE will only grant waivers for two-week periods, so ICCSD had to apply for another waiver to cover the final week before winter break, even though the district has already been using all remote learning for the last four weeks.

In a statement posted on the ICCSD website on Friday, the district said “the current positivity rates in our community” are currently low enough to return to the hybrid model, but added it will “continue to monitor the Johnson County positivity rates.”

“Should the rates begin to rapidly rise, we want to prepare families that there may be a need to move to off-site learning mid-week,” the district said.

According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, the 14-day average positivity rate for COVID-19 tests in Johnson County was 11.3 percent on Friday morning. When the district switched to all-online instruction on Nov. 16, the county’s 14-day positivity average was 17.2 percent.

Between 10 a.m. on Thursday and 10 a.m. on Friday, IDPH reported another 56 confirmed cases of the virus in Johnson County, bringing the total number of county residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 since March 8 to 10,264.

During that same 24-hour time period, IDPH reported another 2,057 people statewide had tested positive for COVID-19, including 79 residents of Linn County. The new cases increased the total number of confirmed cases IDPH has reported to 253,085. That number includes 15,359 residents of Linn County.

The 14-day positivity rates for both Linn County and the entire state were the same at 10 a.m. on Friday: 15.8 percent.

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The number of COVID-19 outbreaks in the state’s long-term care facilities remained high on Friday, with IDPH reporting outbreaks at 141 facilities. That is approximately one-third of all the state’s long-term care facilities.

On Friday morning, IDPH was reporting 833 patients in Iowa hospitals had confirmed cases of the virus. It was the second day in a row the department reported fewer than 900 hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Prior to yesterday, IDPH had reported fewer than 900 hospitalized patients since Nov. 5.

According to IDPH, 128 of the 833 hospitalized patients had been admitted during the preceding 24 hours, and 175 of them were being treated in intensive care units.

The reported number of deaths from COVID-19 remained high on Friday, with IDPH disclosing another 77 deaths. Those deaths, which including three residents of Linn County, increased Iowa’s COVID-19 death toll to 3,197.