Ernst: Wearing a mask in school is a family decision, despite new CDC guidance

By: - July 27, 2021 12:44 pm

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted emergency authorization Friday to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds. (Stock photo/Getty Images)

Parents should decide whether their children wear masks to school even if new federal guidelines recommend them for all students, U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said Tuesday.

CNN reported shortly before Ernst’s phone call with Iowa reporters that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was expected to recommend that everyone in a K-12 school wear a mask, whether they are vaccinated or not. That guidance was issued later in the afternoon for areas with high or substantial transmission rates, including Iowa.

CDC officials have said they are concerned about the quickly spreading delta variant, which is targeting unvaccinated residents. Children under age 12 still can’t get a COVID-19 vaccination.

The situation in Iowa is complicated by the fact that Iowa Legislature passed a bill last session, signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds, that bans school boards and other local governments from requiring masks. 

Reynolds, the Legislature’s majority, and Ernst all are Republicans. Ernst on Tuesday repeated her call for Iowans to get vaccinated — half of them aren’t. But asked repeatedly if she would recommend mask-wearing at schools, she deferred to families. 

Sen. Joni Ernst speaks during a video her office produced about her tele-town hall on May 20, 2020.

“I certainly wouldn’t want mandate it across the board, especially as findings show children aren’t as susceptible,” Ernst said. “I do think we have to think about how mental health plays into this as well. We have just seen a lot of really horrible things over the course of the past year. I think things are best based on science and local conditions on the ground, and I don’t know that we should mandate that from the federal government.” 

The CDC issues recommendations, not mandates. Ernst said local school boards should make the mask call, but she backtracked when a reporter mentioned the new state law banning local elected officials from mandating masks.

“If the Legislature passed that, then the school boards should follow state law,” Ernst said. “But it’s a family decision and if people feel strongly about it, then their children can wear a mask.”

Similar position for vaccines

Ernst said her position is similar for vaccines. “And the same thing with vaccinations — I still think it’s a personal choice,” Ernst said. “However, I would recommend people get vaccinated.” 

As of Tuesday, 49% of Iowans were fully vaccinated, the New York Times reported. More than half, 53%, had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Among those age 65 and older, 86% were fully vaccinated.

Iowa has seen a 267% increase in average daily cases in the past two weeks, the Times reported. The daily average was 225 new cases. Hospitalizations were up 19% at 217.

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Perry Beeman
Perry Beeman

Perry Beeman has nearly 40 years of experience in Iowa journalism and has won national awards for environmental and business writing. He has written for The Des Moines Register and the Business Record, where he also served as managing editor. He also is former editorial director of Grinnell College. He co-authored the recently published book, "The $80 Billion Gamble," which details the lottery-rigging case of Eddie Tipton.