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Masks, screenings recommended for Linn County schools

Published: Jul. 16, 2020 at 3:55 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Contrary to guidance from the state, Linn County Public Health recommended all schools require masks or face shields and conduct health screenings as part of allowing students to return to the classroom.

The guidance released Thursday was not meant to recommend whether or not schools should resume face-to-face classes but to help guide districts that choose to do that. In their return to learn plans submitted to the state, Cedar Rapids Community Schools, Linn-Mar, Marion and College Community districts have yet to decide if they will resume in-person learning or opt for virtual, distanced instruction.

If districts choose to have in-person classes, the Linn County Public Health Department recommended requiring face coverings, screening students for symptoms of COVID-19, maintain 6-feet distance between students and staff, frequent sanitizing and eliminate shared or communal items. That advice is in contrast to recommendations from the Iowa Department of Public Health, which avoided recommendations on face coverings and required screenings.

The 39-page guidance covers everything from the classroom to the cafeteria and study hall to sports. Much of the guidance includes staggering group times, like recess and lunch, to make social distancing easier and not mingling classes, keeping students within a limited group. For sporting events, it urges face coverings, even during games, practicing in small groups and limiting fans to 50 or fewer. It also recommends setting up a system to screen students even before they board the bus in the morning.

The cost of implementing these protocols will be substantial, according to John Speer with the Grant Wood Area Education Agency. He added the most districts are already out of funding from the Federal Cares act, meaning paying for safety measures will come from general funds.

The guidance document also covers what happens if a student or staff member shows symptoms or tests positive. It recommends creating an isolation area for sick or positive cases and prepare ways for students and staff to privately communicate their health status. Linn County Public Health officials said how a positive case impacts a school will vary based on the specifics of each case. If an outbreak occurs, any decision to close the school would be up to school leaders, in conjunction with guidance from state health officials.

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