Iowa governor says raging pandemic won't stop her from forcing schools to open

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Other states, too, have volleyed for in-person learning, ignoring federal health guidelines and soaring local case numbers.

Iowa Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds said Wednesday she would press for a law that would require all school districts in the state to offer 100% in-person learning as an option for students, despite a concerning number of COVID-19 cases statewide.

Between Wednesday morning and Thursday morning, Iowa's Department of Public Health reported more than 2,200 more confirmed virus cases and 99 deaths, according to the Des Moines Register.

In a news conference with a local PBS outlet Wednesday, Reynolds noted that studies have shown children are less at risk for contracting the virus than adults.

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She also said virtual learning had resulted in students falling behind in their academic progress.

But relatively few Iowa schools have been operating in a hybrid or all-virtual capacity to begin with, according to data from the state's Education Department. Only 26 of more than 300 school districts statewide have one or more schools offering hybrid or all-distance learning.

Reynolds urged parents to push for schools to return to fully in-person learning.

"I think parents need the opportunity to also have the (option) to go 100 percent in the classroom," she said. "I would just encourage parents out there to talk to your educators, talk to your school boards, and let’s get our kids back in school."

The Centers for Disease Control's August guidelines for school reopening are clear that in-person learning remains the riskiest option for students and recommend all-virtual learning in communities where there is wide community spread.

Sept. 14 guidelines from the World Health Organization agree that a risk-based approach is necessary when considering school reopenings. The WHO recommends that, when possible, schools should be closed in areas with increased hospitalizations or an upward trend in COVID-19 cases.

Both the CDC and WHO have confirmed that the virus does spread more slowly among children, as Reynolds noted. But what Reynolds failed to mention is that students are also more likely to infect higher-risk groups like teachers and staff members, who then contribute to community spread.

Most infectious disease specialists say that 10% to 15% is the threshold for determining elevated cause for concern about community spread in a given state. This is also one metric used by the U.S. Health Department.

As of Wednesday, 63 of Iowa's 99 counties had a 14-day positivity rate over 15%, according to local reports.

And Iowa isn't the only state pushing for schools to remain open for in-person instruction despite soaring cases.

Florida, whose Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has become notorious for his failure to implement COVID-19-related restrictions, has also elected to keep schools open this fall for in-person learning.

An ABC News affiliate reported last week that Florida's schools would continue to offer the option for in-person learning in the spring semester as well.

But Florida's coronavirus case numbers are spiraling out of control. There were 9,500 new cases reported Wednesday by the State Department of Health, with a positivity rate closing in on 10%.

Florida saw 695 deaths in the first week of December — twice the death rate of November. More than 4,000 Floridians are currently hospitalized with the virus, also twice as many as last month.

South Dakota as well, whose governor, Kristi Noem, has repeatedly come under fire for her lax COVID restrictions, has pushed for in-person learning to continue.

While some school districts in the state reverted to virtual learning before Thanksgiving, many of the largest districts, including that of Sioux Falls, remain open.

Nearly 6,000 teachers, students, and staff have contracted the virus since South Dakota's schools opened in the fall, according to local reports. According to the CDC, South Dakota is currently ranked fourth in the nation for positivity rates per 100,000 residents.

Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center notes that positivity rate is a staggering 48.8%.

Data shows that stay-at-home orders and school closures are one measure that could help contain community spread in these states.

Delaware's stay-at-home order coupled with other precautions resulted in an 88% drop in coronavirus-related hospitalizations and a 100% decrease in COVID-19 mortality rates between April and June.

And studies have repeatedly shown that school closures, strict shelter-in-place orders, and other social distancing measures are one of the most effective ways to curb the spread of the virus.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.