WEST DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — An educator in a Des Moines suburb has died from complications of COVID-19, but authorities are unable to say whether she contracted the virus at school or elsewhere.
Jennifer Crawford, 53, a special education assistant at Indian Hills Junior High School in West Des Moines since 2017, died Monday, Principal Shane Christensen said in an email to the school district’s families and staff.
School district spokeswoman Laine Mendenhall-Buck said Tuesday that Crawford was out of the state when her symptoms began and she had not been at the school for several weeks.
“We do not know exactly how she contracted the virus,” Mendenhall-Buck said.
The school district stretches across Polk and Dallas counties. The 14-day average coronavirus positivity rate as of Tuesday in Polk County was 5.8%, and it was 6.4% in Dallas County. Both are above the 5% rate at which public health experts recommend measures to slow the spread of the virus, including mandatory masks and limiting gatherings.
Gov. Kim Reynolds refuses to require masks despite recommendations from the White House Coronavirus Task Force that a mask mandate would slow the spread of the virus. Reynolds has required Iowa’s students to receive at least 50% of their instruction in-person but is leaving it to school districts to decide whether to require masks in classrooms.
The state’s seven-day rolling average of the positivity rate has risen over the past two weeks. It went from 15.63% on Sept. 21 to 16.69% on Oct. 5, according to an Associated Press analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University. That was the fourth-highest positivity rate in the nation on Monday. Only 10 of Iowa’s 99 counties are below the 5% threshold.
As of Tuesday, 13 Iowa counties were over a 15% threshold set by Reynolds at which school districts may temporarily shift to online-only instruction.
State data indicated 7,927 children under age 17 and 4,171 educators have tested positive for the coronavirus in Iowa. Of the infected educators, 568 had pre-existing conditions that made them more likely to develop serious health complications.
The state teacher’s union said Monday that of 339 school districts, area education agencies and community colleges, 39% still do not require face coverings.
“At this stage in the pandemic, we know there is no wiggle room. This virus finds any way to spread. So, either you are serious about keeping students, school employees and your community safe, or you are not. The data is clear. Masking helps stop the spread,” said Mike Beranek, President of the Iowa State Education Association.
He criticized Reynolds, and public health and state education officials for not requiring masks.
Iowa reported 11 additional deaths in the past 24 hours on Tuesday and 522 new confirmed positive cases. Testing numbers over the weekend and on Monday were extremely low, which likely reduced the positive case numbers. Testing during Monday through Friday last week averaged 12,000 tests a day, and positive tests averaged just over 1,000 a day.
The state has reported 93,423 people with confirmed positive tests since March and 1,399 deaths.
Hospitalizations reached a new single day high on Monday with 413 people hospitalized with COVID-19. The number of patients admitted in the past 24 hours has surged in the past two weeks with more than 50 patients admitted daily since Sept. 22.
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