Reynolds defends decision to not require masks in Iowa schools

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said she doesn't believe school need face masks because the spread of COVID-19 between students is low. (Screenshot from Iowa PBS)

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds is defending her decision to not require masks in Iowa schools, saying on Tuesday she believes “we’re not seeing a lot of transmission from the students” in classrooms.

“Right now, we’re going to stay where we’re at with that,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds announced her strictest mask requirements yet on Monday, ordering Iowans to wear a mask while indoors if they are unable to socially distance from others for more than 15 minutes. She also limited social, leisure and business gatherings to 15 people inside and 30 people outside.

But since students and teachers returned to schools in the fall, Reynolds has declined to require face masks in classrooms, though her policies acknowledge their usage helps reduce the number of students and staff who quarantine.

On Sept. 29, Reynolds loosened quarantine guidelines for schools and said teachers and students who were exposed to the virus would not need to quarantine for two weeks if everyone was wearing masks at the time of the exposure.

“Our kids need to be in school,” Reynolds said. “I think we know all of the reasons why that’s important.”

Beyond the classroom, Reynolds has suspended recreational and club sports, but is allowing people to continue gathering at high school, collegiate and professional sporting events.

She said high school sports has “layered mitigation” in place, and “it can be something that’s a little more controlled than youth sports.”

The Iowa State Education Association reported Tuesday that 33% of Iowa school districts still do not require masks. While that’s a change from ISEA’s initial report indicating 40% of districts didn’t require masks, “it is still way too high,” said spokesperson Jean Hessburg.

Only six Iowa school districts are in counties where the positivity rate in the community is lower than 15%, the threshold schools are told to meet before requesting to move to virtual learning.

In the last week, 41 Iowa schools were granted waivers to move to virtual learning, according to data from the Iowa Department of Education.

Linh Ta
Reporter Linh Ta comes to Iowa Capital Dispatch from the Des Moines Register, where she covered trending news, public safety and the suburbs. Most recently, she has covered retail business and followed both national and local trends to provide insight about the issues that matter the most to Iowans. Beyond traditional journalism, Ta has worked as a speech coach with the Des Moines Storytellers Project with the goal of sharing the diverse perspectives of Iowans from all walks of life. She is the 2019 winner of the Young Iowa Journalist Award and the winner of an Iowa Broadcast News Award. Email her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @linhmaita.