IDPH adjusts quarantine recommendations


Toni Fortmann

UNI follows IDPH recommendations regarding quarantine of close contact cases if both people wore face coverings during the exposure.


In a campus-wide message on Tuesday, Sept. 29, the university announced that in keeping with new guidelines from the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH), “close contacts of COVID-positive cases will no longer need to quarantine for 14 days if a face covering was consistently and correctly worn by both people during the exposure.”

The change in Iowa policy, which was announced by Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds at Tuesday’s press conference, runs counter to Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations.

“You are still considered a close contact even if you were wearing a mask while you were around someone with COVID-19,” the CDC states on the COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions page of its website. “Masks are meant to protect other people in case you are infected, and not to protect you from becoming infected.”

Iowa’s State Epidemiologist Dr. Caitlin Pedati acknowledged at Tuesday’s press conference that the new Iowa guidelines differ from the CDC’s. In defense of the new rules, she cited studies which have indicated the effectiveness of mask-wearing in close contact scenarios. She also mentioned states such as Wyoming and Nebraska which have adopted similar modifications to their quarantine guidelines.

The new rule does not apply in health care settings, such as hospitals and nursing homes, nor to persons wearing only face shields.

Reynolds said the change was made to help schools keep students in class.

“In some situations, (schools are) having to quarantine a disproportionately high number of students when just a few positive cases have been identified,” she said Tuesday.

The UNI campus faced a similar issue earlier in the semester, as reported by the Northern Iowan on Sept. 3.

“Our concern is not with people getting sick, it is that too many healthy students are being asked to sit out of class,” wrote Patrick Pease, Associate Provost for Academic Affairs, in an email to the Northern Iowan on Sept. 1.

The university responded by shifting the locations of more than 100 in-person classes to more spacious rooms in order to reduce the number of students sitting within six feet of each other.

At that time, the DOR was reporting 83 students in quarantine. In the subsequent weeks, that number has dropped significantly. From Sept. 21-27, only 20 students were quarantining in DOR facilities, although that number does not include students quarantining off-campus.

Thanks to the IDPH’s new policy, the release of this week’s COVID-19 data this Friday is likely to show a drastic decrease in that number, since UNI requires that students wear masks in all campus buildings as well as outside if social distancing is not possible.

Additionally, the IDPH’s decision also impacts students currently in quarantine, since the new rules further states that people currently quarantining may come out of quarantine if both people were wearing a mask during the exposure, provided they are not sick and have not tested positive.

“The Student Health Clinic and the Department of Residence are working to identify and notify students who no longer need to quarantine under these new guidelines,” the campus-wide email stated Tuesday.