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Reynolds addresses new quarantining guidance, announces expansion in testing

The Iowa Department of Public Health released new guidance on quarantining Monday night to local health departments. Gov. Reynolds is expected to explain more.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Tuesday, Gov. Kim Reynolds defended the state's decision to loosen quarantine guidance for coronavirus exposures throughout Iowa, a decision that could significantly impact the number of people quarantining in schools and workplaces. 

The Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) released the new guidance to local public health departments Monday. The guidance says close contacts of COVID-positive cases won't have to quarantine for 14 days if everyone is wearing a face covering correctly during the exposure. 

State Public Health Medical Director and Epidemiologist Dr. Caitlin Pedati said information from Iowa and neighboring states helped with the decision to go against Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) quarantine guidelines

Pedati referenced four school districts in Sioux County where three districts did not require masks but one did. Public health officials monitored the districts and saw greater spread in schools where masks were not required. 

The state will not release the names of those schools without their permission, according to Gov. Kim Reynolds' spokesman Pat Garrett.

Pedati cited a July CDC study out of Missouri that showed "consistent and correct use" of face coverings helped to reduce the spread of COVID-19. In that incident, 139 adults were exposed to two symptomatic hair stylists, and no one got the virus from that exposure. 

Pedati said while you don't need to quarantine if all parties were properly wearing masks, it is important that you self-monitor and continue to wear face coverings.

Iowa Department of Human Services spokesman Matt Highland confirmed contact tracers will still notify those exposed to the virus even if the infected person was wearing a mask properly. Individuals exposed will not have to quarantine. 

WATCH: Gov. Kim Reynolds' full press conference for Sept. 29, 2020

Reynolds called this a "reasonable change" for Iowans and praised Pedati and the IDPH for their efforts. When asked if this means there will be a mask mandate for schools, Reynolds responded quickly. 

"No, it's not a mandate, and this is new guidance, not a mandate," Reynolds said. "It's guidance so schools will have the ability to decide whether they're going to practice this or not." 

The latest White House Coronavirus Task Force report dated for Sept. 27 still recommends issuing a face mask mandate, however Reynolds again put her trust in Iowans. The governor said a recent survey shows over 75% of Iowans are wearing face masks. 

The latest Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll from Sept. 14-17 says 76% of Iowa adults say they wear masks almost always or most of the time when they are in public places indoors. 

Reynolds said a majority of schools are already enforcing mask-wearing policies. 

"We're doing the right thing, even the Surgeon General, I think, he acknowledged that by education Iowans about the importance, we're sometimes more likely to get them to comply," Reynolds said. "I believe in Iowans, I believe they do the right thing." 

What about testing? 

Monday, President Trump announced that the federal government will begin distributing millions of rapid coronavirus tests to states this week. He urged governors to use them to help with reopening schools, according to the Associated Press. 

Tuesday, Reynolds said there is flexibility for what the tests will be used for. 

"We are aware that some long term care facilities and assisted living facilities in Iowa, have already begun receiving the tests, we expect the first shipment of our state allocation to arrive anytime at the State Hygienic Lab," Reynolds said. 

"We anticipate receiving between 40 and 50,000 tests between now and December, for a total allocation of approximately 900,000 tests," said Reynolds. 

The IDPH and State Hygienic Lab are working on a detailed distribution plan that will be prioritizing rural areas with less access to testing and for school staff and students. 

The tests won't be directly sent to schools, however. 

"Instead, what we will do is we're going to be working with our local health care providers who can not only provide the test but also check the general health of children," Reynolds explained.

The governor also announced additional TestIowa clinics opening in Dubuque and Sioux counties. 

The new Dubuque clinic is at the Grand River Medical Group Respiratory Clinic. Regular hours will be Monday through Thursday from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Friday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Testing will be held outside the clinic. 

Two clinics will open in Sioux County, one with Orange City Area Health System and the other at Sioux Center Health. 

Reynolds said that she expects more TestIowa clinics to open in the coming weeks, but didn't announce where.