(The Center Square) – Nearly 700 students and 19 staff of Iowa City Community School District in Johnson County are in quarantine due to exposure to COVID-19, according to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard.
The district reported as of 3 p.m. on April 7 that 145 students (.97 percent of all students) and four staff members (.17% of all staff) are currently COVID-19 positive, including both those who have been confirmed positive and those presumed positive (showing symptoms without confirmation of a negative test or alternative diagnosis).
The district reports a total of 40 confirmed positive cases, 105 presumed positive cases, and 10 classroom closures.
“Over the past few weeks, when conducting contact tracing for confirmed positive cases in our buildings, we have seen an increase in the number of students identified as close contacts,” Iowa City Community School District Director of Community Relations Kristin Pedersen told The Center Square in an emailed statement. “This increase is, in part, due to the influx of students in our buildings since returning to 100% on-site learning and the inability to no longer maintain proper social distancing measures.”
Pedersen said the district conducts contact tracing only for confirmed positive cases based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
City High School has 132 quarantined students, 21 presumed positive students and 11 confirmed positive students. Northwest Junior High School has 267 quarantined students with less than 10 presumed positive students, and Weber Elementary School has 36 quarantined students and 14 presumed positive students. The schools are about 5 miles from each other.
In addition, 25 or more students are in quarantine at the following schools that currently have fewer than 10 presumed positive students: Coralville Central Elementary School, Garner Elementary School, Liberty High School, and Lucas Elementary School. Coralville Central Elementary School and Northwest Junior High are about 1 mile from each other.
There have been 1,253 COVID-19 cases among district students and 250 COVID-19 cases among district staff since Aug. 15, 2020.
The Gazette reported in early March that there was a quarantine of more than 100 of the 700 students attending Northwest Junior High School.
“As a district, we continue to review our quarantine procedures and guidelines on a weekly basis, taking into account any updated guidance from public health experts,” Pedersen said. “In addition, we continue to work closely with Johnson County Public Health to ensure we are taking the appropriate preventative measures to keep our students, staff, and families safe.”
The district states on its website that if close contact occurs with a person who tests positive for COVID-19, students and staff can return to school 14 days later if no symptoms develop. If they test positive, they should isolate for 10 days and may return to school after 24 hours without fever and if symptoms are improving.
Gov. Kim Reynolds signed on January 29 a bill, SF 160, into law that requires “brick-and-mortar” school districts and accredited nonpublic schools to provide full-time in-person instruction of students beginning Feb. 15. The law states that the Iowa Department of Education would consider requests to move to “primarily remote learning” based on the number of teachers at the school who are in quarantine due to exposure to COVID-19 and the availability of substitute teachers, food service workers, and school bus drivers.
Reynolds said in a news conference on April 7 that she is not aware of any school district in the country that “has pointed to a significant outbreak” resulting from transmission in the classroom.
“Even within Iowa, anecdotally, when you talk to the educators in the different schools when they were doing the contact tracing, most of the teachers or the kids were being exposed outside the classroom,” she said. “We weren’t seeing the transmission inside the classroom.”
Asked by a reporter about the Iowa City situation, she said that if all students wear the mask in the classroom and a student tests positive “then not all of the students have to quarantine.”
“To date … we haven’t seen any classrooms that have indicated that it was happening in the classroom,” Reynolds added. “Certainly not the majority.”
As of April 7, in the last seven days, Johnson County has had a positive test rate of 6% with 158 positive tests, according to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard. The county has experienced a total of 80 reported deaths related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including 75 in which COVID-19 was the underlying cause.