Sioux City, Heelan, other K-12 schools to close after Iowa governor recommends it over COVID-19
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Sioux City, Heelan, other K-12 schools to close after Iowa governor recommends it over COVID-19

DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds recommended Iowa K-12 schools close for at least 30 days after Sunday’s discovery of “substantial community spread of COVID-19” in the state.

The state Legislature also agreed Sunday to suspend its 2020 session for at least a month.

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“Based on new information today from the Iowa Department of Public Health, now is the time to move to the next level of response,” Reynolds said in a statement Sunday night. “I am now recommending that all Iowa schools close for a period of four weeks to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”

Soon after the governor's announcement, the Sioux City and Bishop Heelan districts cancelled classes for a month, beginning Monday.

Other districts who announced closures soon after Reynolds' announcement included: Alta-Aurelia, Central Lyon, Harris-Lake Park, Hinton, Kingsley-Pierson, MMCRU, MOC-Floyd Valley, OABCIG, Okoboji, Sheldon, South O'Brien, River Valley, Storm Lake, Unity Christian, Western Christian, Westwood.

On Friday, Sioux City officials had said they would continue classes, noting that there has not been a presumptive case of coronavirus in Woodbury County, but would start restricting public access to school buildings.

Reynolds said she was making her recommendation in consultation with the health officials based on federal guidelines. Officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a new recommendation Sunday for organizers of gatherings of 50 or more to cancel or postpone such events throughout the United States for the next eight weeks. But the advisory did not apply to day-to-day operations such as schools, colleges and businesses.

State health officials were notified Sunday of four additional positive cases of Iowans with COVID-19 — bringing the known total to 22 positive cases.

According to the state Health Department, two cases are related to international travel. The individuals are residents of Allamakee County; one is a middle-age adult between 41-60; the other is younger then 18.

“The third case is a middle-age Johnson County resident with no identified travel-related risk or exposure to a known COVID-19 case, and is considered the second case of community spread in Iowa. The fourth individual resides in Polk County and is a middle-age adult and indicates a third case of community spread,” according to a news release from the governor’s office.

One of Sunday’s new cases was the first Iowa test conducted by a national lab. With testing options now expanding, Iowa expects the number of positive cases to increase.

State officials said they are developing policies to ensure continued access to child care during this time of emergency, including meals for low-income students.

Earlier Sunday, Republican legislative leaders announced the Iowa General Assembly’s 2020 legislative session will be suspended at least 30 days following the announcement there is evidence of community spread of the novel coronavirus in the state.

Republicans who control the Legislature said the decision was made in consultation with the state public health officials and Reynolds office based on CDC recommendations. Reynolds, who met privately with legislative leaders to discuss the situation, supports the decision of GOP legislative leaders to temporarily halt the session, a governor’s spokesman said.

The decision to temporarily suspend this year’s session came one day after the Republican governor called on Iowans to take more aggressive measures to limit the spread.

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, and House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, said evidence of community spread likely would cause them to consider policy changes at the Capitol building to mitigate problems and concerns associated with the global pandemic.

The House and Senate will convene Monday at their regularly scheduled times to consider resolutions for continuity of government to ensure delivery of essential services to Iowans, the leaders said. Previously scheduled subcommittee and committee meetings have been canceled, and standing committees will be on call as needed.

The Capitol building will be open at 11 a.m. Monday, officials said, with entrances open on the south and west sides. Before entering the Statehouse, staff members and the public will be required to undergo a health screening administered by the state Health Department that included filling out a health questionnaire and a temperature reading.

All scheduled events, tours and receptions at the Capitol are canceled until further notice.

Members of the public over the age of 60 or with underlying health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and lung disease were encouraged to avoid the Capitol.

Republicans, who hold majorities of 32-18 in the Senate and 53-47 in the House, were preparing for this week’s second funnel deadline — a self-imposed hurdle for bills to clear one chamber and a committee of the other chamber to remain eligible for consideration.

Lawmakers still have to formulate a nearly $8 billion state budget for fiscal 2021, which begins July 1. Majority Republicans also were expected to approve a tax relief package and complete action on their remaining priorities before adjourning their election-year session.

Along with passing emergency legislation to suspend the session until April 15, there were indications legislators would approve supplemental funding for the state’s Medicaid program, give guidance to Iowa’s 372 school districts, extend the Senate confirmation process for gubernatorial appointees and consider any other action that might be needed while legislators are on hiatus.

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