Grinnell poll: Majority of Americans consider schools unsafe due to COVID-19

A COVID-19 cell. (Image via National Science Foundation)

A new Grinnell College National Poll released Wednesday found that a majority of Americans think it is unsafe to send  students to class in person, a touchy subject in Iowa. 

Gov. Kim Reynolds has insisted that local school districts primarily hold classes in person, arguing that it is important to the mental health of Iowans, the education of students and the economy to do so. 

Local school districts and the teachers union, the Iowa State Education Association, have challenged the order in court. They argue that Reynolds overstepped her authority and should let local elected school board decide how much students study in class, and remotely.

The Grinnell poll found that Americans are leery of sending students to class, across all grade levels and at colleges and universities. 

A small majority addressing each grade category said it would be very or mostly unsafe to send students to traditional in-person classes, the poll by Grinnell College and Selzer & Associates found. “We checked four different grade levels, and in every case a small majority felt that things were more unsafe than safe,” pollster J. Ann Selzer said in a statement.

“But when you dive in, you see this wide partisan divide — two out of three Republicans see schools as mostly safe, whereas nearly three of four Democrats are saying they find schools mostly unsafe,” Selzer added.

More than half of poll respondents, 52%, said President Donald Trump hasn’t done enough to contain the coronavirus.  Democrat Joe Biden leads Trump among national voters in the poll, which also looked at concerns about absentee voting.

“Not only is President Trump seen as not doing enough in response to the COVID-19 situation, by a majority, his job approval rating for handling the coronavirus has fallen by 11 points since April,” poll director Peter Hanson, a Grinnell College associate professor of political science, said in a statement. 

The poll of 1,012 adults, including 827 registered voters, was conducted by phone Aug. 26-30 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points overall and 3.4 percentage points for questions of likely voters.

The latest Grinnell results come as Iowa continues to top the states in the per capita rate of new COVID-19 cases, the New York Times reported Wednesday morning. 

The Times reported that Iowa has had 8,240 new cases over the past seven days, a rate of 261 cases per 100,000 people. South Dakota was second at 248 cases per 100,000, followed by North Dakota 232 per 100,000.

The U.S. territory of Guam topped Iowa, at 275 cases per 100,000 people. 

As of 8:25 a.m. Wednesday, Iowa had recorded 65,846 cases and 1,125 deaths since the coronavirus pandemic started, the Times reported. Iowa recorded five deaths and 594 new cases on Tuesday, the newspaper added. 

The Iowa Department of Public Health reported 479 cases and two deaths on Tuesday. The state said there have been 66,137 cases and 1,125 deaths in Iowa since the pandemic started.