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White House Coronavirus Task Force recommends Iowa mandate masks and close bars; Des Moines Public Schools will sue the state for right to keep classes online

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Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

Last week, the White House Coronavirus Task Force advised Iowa to require face coverings in 48 of its 99 counties, and close bars in areas with a COVID-19 test positivity rate above 3 percent.

The task force recommendations were included in its report dated Aug. 9, which was obtained by the Des Moines Register.

“Iowa is in the red zone for cases, indicating more than 100 new cases per 100,000 population last week, and the yellow zone for test positivity, indicating a rate between 5% to 10%,” the report said.

“The federal task force’s recommendations include that Iowa officials close bars and mandate mask wearing, ‘especially in indoor settings,’ in 17 metro areas and 48 counties,” according to the Register’s summary. “The regions, designated as ‘red’ or ‘yellow’ zones because of coronavirus spread, include the Des Moines area, Council Bluffs, Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, Dubuque, Iowa City, Ames and the Quad Cities.”

“The report also says that in the affected areas, bars should be closed, gyms should be closed or limited to 25% of normal capacity, and social gatherings should be limited to 25 or fewer people.”

According to the report, the recommended mitigation efforts should remain in place until the percentage of people in a community testing positive for COVID-19 drops to 3 percent.

The Iowa Department of Public Health’s official 14-day average positivity rate for Johnson County is 6.6 percent, and for Linn County it is 7 percent. The statewide 14-day average positivity rate is 6.8 percent, according to the department.

The Register requested a copy of the report from IDPH Medical Director Dr. Caitlin Pedati, who provided it to the newspaper following an interview on Wednesday.

Pedati told reporter Tony Leys she discussed the task force report with Dr. Deborah Brix, the chair of the task force, when Brix accompanied Vice President Mike Pence on his Aug. 13 visit to Iowa.

Gov. Reynolds and IDPH, of course, have chosen to not follow the recommendations in the report.

Des Moines Public Schools will sue the state

Des Moines Public Schools (DMPS), Iowa’s largest school district, announced on Friday it will sue the state following the Iowa Department of Education’s (DOE) rejection of its request to begin the school year with online instruction on Thursday.

The district sought a waiver from Gov. Reynolds’ requirement that schools offer at least 50 percent in-person instruction.

“The virtual learning proposed by DMPS is not an act of political defiance,” Superintendent Tom Ahart said in a statement. “It’s about following science as we resume instruction for our students while doing our part to keep our community safe during a time of continuing uncertainty regarding public health.”

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The lawsuit will seek an injunction to prevent the state from enforcing the governor’s in-person instruction mandate, and a declaratory judgement that local school boards have the authority to make health and safety decision for their schools during the pandemic.

It will be the second lawsuit seeking to overturn the governor’s in-person instruction mandate and return authority for school decisions to school boards. On Wednesday, the Iowa City Community School District and the Iowa State Education Association jointly filed a lawsuit against the state.

In the letter rejecting DMPS’s request for a waiver, DOE Director Ann Lebo wrote, “our consultation with the Iowa Department of Public Health have not identified any other basis for concluding that it is appropriate to start the school year with primarily remote learning.”

In its Aug. 9 report, the White House Coronavirus Task Force listed the Des Moines-West Des Moines area as one of the Yellow Zone communities. The task force characterizes those communities as being at risk of “exponential community spread” of COVID-19.

A spokesperson for the governor said Reynolds is “disappointed to hear that the Des Moines Public School System plans to sue the State rather than to work cooperatively to develop a return to learn plan that complies with the law and meets the educational and health needs of Iowa’s children.”


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