Masks needed in schools

EDITORIALS

BY ART CULLEN

The governor and attorney general agree that local officials cannot order that masks are worn in public to promote safety. Gov. Kim Reynolds said Tuesday it was inappropriate for the Muscatine mayor to order masks. The attorney general’s office agreed, saying that local ordinances or orders cannot conflict with state orders or laws. The governor noted that she has not ordered masks in public, and therefore local officials cannot.

This is troubling as school fast approaches next month. The President insists that schools must open on a normal schedule. The governor always is of like mind. Her comments suggest that public school officials will not be allowed to require masks of all students and staff when classes resume. Teachers are especially nervous as they face a crowd of sniffling, shouting or coughing children. Parents overwhelmingly want their children to return to school in Storm Lake. Supt. Stacey Cole noted that a survey showed 90% of parents want classes to start in August full-time. Face coverings make it safer — not totally safe, but better.

Recent research suggests that COVID-19 can go airborne and is not confined to large droplets that are unlikely to spread beyond six feet. The virus can attach to aerosols as people breath and widely circulate in enclosed settings. Health professionals are especially concerned as they deal with coronavirus patients. Young people may be more resistant to showing symptoms, but classrooms could become super-spreader sites to teachers and staff if all practical precautions are not taken. Masking is the most practical and effective solution in that setting. Either that, or regular testing with immediate results must be conducted before a student enters the building. Clearly, the government is not prepared or willing to provide routine testing at schools.

The governor said she would reconsider her orders as circumstances demand. She should reconsider the idea of not requiring masks in schools. You cannot social-distance elementary school students without keeping them on leashes. Most research suggests that masks reduce the danger of infection by at least 50% in an indoor setting. That is worth the bother in a school setting.

School districts are liable for the safety and well-being of their students and staff, and they have a responsibility to serve their communities by not acting as super-spreader sites. Perhaps some smaller districts can get by with social distancing. We doubt it. Dr. Anthony Fauci this week urged everyone to take care, to wear masks in public, because the infections continue to surge across the country. If the governor will not reconsider her order by August, and will not direct schools to use face masks, then local school boards should press the safety issue and require the masks regardless. We all have personal responsibilities, the governor said this week. One of them is to act in the interest of public safety.

A coordinated effort

Emails obtained by the Iowa Capital Dispatch and shared with The Storm Lake Times confirm that the state did not want federal agencies mucking up the works with meatpackers as the coronavirus surged through Waterloo, Tama and Columbus Junction. The state medical director at the onset of the outbreaks in mid-April emailed the federal Centers for Disease Control asking if she could talk to someone about the surges in meatpacking plants. A CDC official emailed back asking for more information like infection rates. The state medical director responded that she had checked into it, and would not seek CDC guidance after all.

Gov. Kim Reynolds disclosed a few days afterwards that she had “been on the phone with the CEO and the management team for all the Tyson plants to talk about what they’re doing proactively to make sure that they’re protecting their workforce, the strategies they put in place to mitigate, to let them know we have the capacity to do surveillance testing.”

The CDC never imposed guidance on meatpacking through existing workplace safety regimens such as OSHA. The state did not want that to happen after consulting with the industry. President Trump thereafter ordered all food processing workers onto the job no matter what and promised liability protection for employers. The Iowa Legislature’s first order of business upon resumption in June was to raise the bar for workers suing employers over workplace safety negligence. It was a completely coordinated effort to keep meat production up to avoid anxiety at the grocery store. Testing did not come to Storm Lake for another month. Tyson did its own testing, and still is testing on a selective basis. General testing remains available with slow results. Iowa’s meatpacking plants slowed production for a few weeks, and now are back at full capacity until the next surge hits.

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