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Gov. Kim Reynolds announced a policy change Sept. 29 to make it easier for Iowa students, teachers and business workers exposed to someone with COVID-19 to avoid a two-week quarantine, despite increasing cases across the state.

Under the new state guidance, workers and children in day cares and schools don’t have to quarantine as long as they and the infected person with whom they were in contact were consistently and correctly wearing face coverings. Only the infected person must go into isolation, while the close contacts should monitor their health.

The change breaks with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, which recommends a 14-day quarantine for anyone who is in close contact with someone who has tested positive regardless of mask use.

A White House coronavirus task force report dated Sept. 28 warned that Iowa’s high positivity and case rates and high number of hospitalizations put the state in a “vulnerable position going into the fall and winter.” The report noted that most of Iowa’s 99 counties have high or moderate levels of community transmission.

The report recommended a statewide mask requirement, reduced capacity for indoor dining and bars, more on-site inspections of infection control practices at prisons and nursing homes, and more testing on college campuses.

Visiting Nurse Association Executive Director Stacey Killian said she had not had a chance to speak with area school districts following the state’s announcement, but she will no longer recommend individuals quarantine for 14 days following an exposure as long as both people were wearing a mask over their face and nose at the time of exposure.

The governor said that virus activity has ticked up as schools have reopened and that she’s heard a “common frustration” in recent weeks that too many students and teachers were being forced into quarantine.

Reynolds and the state epidemiologist, Dr. Caitlin Pedati, said new information indicates that face coverings reduce the spread of the virus in school and business settings. They said the change in guidance was in line with similar moves in Nebraska and Wyoming, which like Iowa, have had some of the highest COVID-19 case rates in the country over the past two weeks.

The new guidance does not apply to health care or residential settings such as hospitals and nursing homes.

Reynolds called the policy change a “great incentive” to wear a mask, and she said she was encouraged by surveys showing most Iowa residents already do despite the lack of a requirement.

Locally, Holy Family Catholic Schools officials said they will review new guidance from the Iowa Department of Education and meet with health officials before deciding whether to alter quarantine rules.

Rick Colpitts, superintendent of Western Dubuque Community School District, said the school district does not have a clear picture of how it will handle the new quarantine rules.

“Right now, we are just trying to determine what changes the county will make to the quarantine process,” he told the Telegraph Herald in an email.

Mike Cyze, chief communications officer at Dubuque Community School District, told the TH in an email that school officials will meet with the local health department to determine how the state’s guidance will be implemented.

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