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Iowa relaxes quarantine guidance despite rapid virus spread


IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Gov. Kim Reynolds announced a policy change Tuesday 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.

The Republican governor announced the relaxed guideline during a news conference where she acknowledged that rural counties in the northwest part of the state were suffering from uncontrolled community virus spread affecting all age groups.

With no public health mitigation strategies in place and old routines returning, “the virus is simply spreading from person to person during the normal course of daily activities,” Reynolds said.

Iowa, a state of about 3.2 million people, has been reporting an average of 800 to 900 new confirmed coronavirus cases per day in recent weeks, which gives it one of the nation’s highest infection rates.

The number of patients hospitalized statewide with the virus climbed Tuesday to 376, which was the highest level since late May. The increase has been driven by a surge in northwestern Iowa counties such as Osceola, Lyon and Sioux, which each have a two-week positivity rate of higher than 20%. Fifty long-term care facilities are also facing outbreaks.

A White House coronavirus task force report dated Sunday 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.

Reynolds long ago rejected issuing