Community organizations, Linn County Board of Health send separate letters to schools; urging universal masking

Published: Sep. 1, 2021 at 8:10 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Members of the Linn County Board of Health addressed a letter it sent to county school districts in a press conference Wednesday. That letter encouraged mask requirements in schools, even offering a potential loophole in the law banning mask mandates.

21 community organizations across eastern Iowa sent a separate letter to eight school boards this week, echoing the need to mask up in schools and calling for schools to implement a mask mandate.

Mandi Nichols is the director of the non-profit Corridor Community Action Network, one of the organizations that signed the letter. As a mother, the spread of COVID-19 in schools is a personal concern to her.

“I am very frightened pretty much every day that I drop them off, particularly since we do still have a four-year-old in the home who is not able to be vaccinated. My older two children also do have autoimmune disorders, as do I,” Nichols said.

Nichols said the community organizations are showing a commitment to keeping the community healthy.

“We just want our kids to be safe. There are a lot of parents that are in situations right now where they are considering giving up jobs and giving up assistance because they have no way to keep their children safe,” Nichols said.

“As educators and community organizations working to create a better life for those who live here, we, the undersigned, demand that the school board mandate masks at all school facilities and events.” the letter states. “This mandate should be kept in place until such time as elementary-aged children are eligible for vaccination and community spread has returned to the ‘low’ category”

The organizations that signed onto the letter include Corridor Community Action Network, Iowa Citizen Action Network, Beloved Community Initiative, Iowa City Mutual Aid, Golfview Residents Association, Claiming Disability Inc., Bridge Under The Bridge, Center For Worker Justice, Iowa Poor People’s Campaign, Domestic Violence Intervention Program, Iowa City Autism Community, Neighborhood NESTS, Dream City Iowa, The League of Women Voters of Iowa, Iowa Action, One Iowa, Iowa Citizens For Community Improvement, Veterans For Peace Iowa, Antelope Lending Library, Cedar Rapids Democratic Socialists of America, and the Wesley Center.

Another letter to Linn County school boards, sent from the Linn County Board of Health, offers a potential loophole to the state law banning mask mandates. You can read the full letter here. It cites a specific line in the law, stating school authorities may use facial coverings when it is “necessary for a specific extracurricular or instructional purpose.”

“We are encouraging the school boards now to take that language and seek council, their own legal counsel. It is our job as a board of health to do everything we can to protect the health and safety of the general public,” Stacey Walker, Linn County Supervisor and Board of Health member, said.

Board of Health members stressed that they are not giving legal advice, and in a previous statement said it is not encouraging schools to break state law, rather just encouraging them about the best ways to keep students safe.

Dr. Pramod Dwivedi, director of Linn County Public Health, pointed to recent Linn County COVID-19 data and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studies to support the recommendation for universal masking in schools, saying last week there were over 600 new COVID-19 cases reported in Linn County, and the seven-day test positivity rate is almost 15%. Only 55% of people in Linn County are fully vaccinated.

Dwivedi says the Delta variant of COVID-19, which is highly transmissible, is the only strain currently being detected in Linn County.

Iowa is seeing an average of more than 1,100 people testing positive each day over the last week, which is a 17% increase from the week before.

A recent CDC study showed how one sick teacher infected half of her classroom in California.

“It was documented that Delta variant spread to 50% of a classroom after exposure to an unvaccinated and unmasked teacher,” Dwivedi said.

This as community organization leaders like Nichols call for change.

“This is a law that needs to be challenged,” Nichols said. “Keeping our children safe is more important.”

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