As of Wednesday, January 6, 2021, Johnson County’s 14-day COVID-19 positivity rate was 12%, 2% above the Iowa City Community School District’s threshold, but 3% below the state’s 15% guideline. The ICCSD applied for a waiver to hold all classes and extracurricular activities in the district online for two weeks, but the waiver was denied by state officials.
“State guidelines say that [the district] shouldn’t be requesting a move to online until a 15% community positivity rate. The district asked us in their decision matrix, to look at that at above 10%. There’s some disconnect as far as best practice in some people’s mind, and what the state districts in Iowa do,” newly appointed ICCSD Superintendent, Matt Degner, said.
The ICCSD has applied for six waivers since the beginning of the delayed school year, starting on September 8. Of the six waivers the district has applied for, five have been granted, the most recent one has been denied.
“I don’t think much of the data we included was any different than any other time we’ve requested a waiver to provide online learning, but I think the state started to view the situation a little differently as far as wanting districts to be on-site,” Degner said.
While about 40% of students are enrolled in the ICCSD Online Learning Program, 60% go to school in person, through the district’s Return-to-Learn program. The district is advised by local health officials from the Johnson County Public Health Department and the Healthy Kids Clinic at the University of Iowa, as safety is a top priority for the district.
“We have really tried to take the guidance of the local health department and have leaned on them for support and guidance, as these numerous situations have come up,” Degner said.
Every school district in the state of Iowa has their own protocol, positivity threshold, and differ in their implementation of public health mitigation measures.
“We have made the commitment to support the districts as best we can. We’ve set up a weekly, now bi-weekly, workgroups with all school nurses to discuss different protocols and case investigations,” Sam Jarvis, Community Manager at the Johnson County Department of Public Health, said. “Every school district does it slightly differently. We recognize it’s a difficult position to be in, but overall it’s about safety and security.”
While many students in the hybrid learning model prefer to go to school in person, COVID-19 is still a significant concern for some.
“I do hybrid because I personally learn better in-person. When the positivity rate goes above 10% I do get a bit worried and wish school would go online for two weeks. I don’t mind going online for two weeks, it’s nice to be home and [my] schedule balances out,” Kimberly Marquez ‘22 said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that a 14-day community positivity rate of 5%t is a moderate risk for transmission of COVID-19. The CDC signals that a positivity rate of above 10% is the highest level of transmission in schools.
“Iowa was criticized for having higher [positivity] threshold metrics, and the Iowa City School District has established theirs that are much lower,” Jarvis said. “We have concerns where people are gathering, whether it’s small gatherings, larger gatherings, at work, social events, school, or anything. Given the fact that [the virus] spreads easily, there are a lot of mitigation measures that we’re asking the community to take.”
Some mitigation measures are more common behaviors that include washing your hands, covering your cough, and staying home when you’re ill. Other measures are newer and have become exceedingly important over the past year. These include wearing a mask, social distancing, and in some cases, self-quarantining. In the ICCSD, face coverings are required for all students and staff to be worn while in school.
“Stay safe and stay healthy. We’ll be continuing to share information out in local media and our social media, and we really want people to stay tuned in because right now we’re also doing vaccine planning, so there is more information to come,” Jarvis said.