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Iowa Schools Are Closing, What Happens Now?

Natalie Krebs
Gov. Kim Reynolds gave updates on the COVID-19 situation in Johnston on Monday.

Gov. Kim Reynolds held a press conference at the State Operations Emergency Center in Johnston Monday to discuss her recommendation to close school for four weeks and other measures the state is taking in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Here is what we know about school closures. 

What are they planning to do with kids that are now going to miss at least four weeks of school? Did Gov. Kim Reynolds specify what this would mean for classes maybe going into the summer or seniors needing to graduate?

Late Monday night, the legislature passed a billthat would give Gov. Reynolds the authority to waive the instructional time requirement for any time missed in the next four weeks. The legislation would also allow her to waive that requirement for a longer period of time if it's determined that schools need to be closed longer.

It’s still unclear how that’s going to impact students exactly when it comes to graduation requirements, but it does mean that right now schools will not have to make up the time missed in the next four weeks.

What about kids who rely on school lunches?

Gov. Reynolds says she’s received a USDA waiver toallow schools to continue serving meals after they close and meaning that schools will be able to activate their summer meal plans early so kids can still get food. Those meals will be provided as bag lunches so kids can come pick them up and go to avoid crowds.

We’ve talked a lot about k-12 and colleges but what about daycares, has she said anything there?

At a press conference yesterday, Gov. Reynolds said she is working with agencies like the Department of Education and the Department of Human Services to make sure families can still access childcare. She said that means financial assistance so childcare providers are paid on enrollment rather than attendance. 

Department of Human Services Director Kelly Garcia, who was also at the conference, said her department is working with childcare providers and superintendents to set up alternative sites for school closures and childcare providers who may have decided to close. Garcia says she’s asking parents to keep children home with them if possible, especially if they’re sick and to reach out on Facebook to friends for childcare assistance.

What about people who don’t have paid leave and have to miss work because of this?

One thing that could help is that Gov. Reynolds has relaxed restrictions for unemployment benefits. This means Iowans who are laid off or need to take time off to self-isolate -- or even care for children who are out of school or daycare -- can qualify for unemployment benefits if they meet the qualifications

Did Gov. Reynolds specify how prepared Iowa’s hospitals are?

Credit Natalie Krebs / IPR
State Medical Director Caitlin Pedati gives updates on the COVID-19 situation in Iowa in Johnston.

Reynolds said a second shift is being added to the state hygienic lab, which will increase the state’s testing capacity for running tests from 54 to 108 tests per day. Results are available in 24 hours.

There are also three private companies that are able to test though the amount of tests they run daily is unknown, but they are required to report positive results to the state health department. Reynolds said she’s in conversation with healthcare providers about the resources they have and their supplies and is reaching out to the private sector about supplies. State Medical Director Caitlin Pedati also said the state Department of Public Health is still reaching out to hospitals to get a count of ventilators.

Clay Masters is the senior politics reporter for MPR News.