KEOSAUQUA — Cases of the coronavirus have increased to the point that the Van Buren County Community School District will require students and staff to begin wearing masks.

Cases of COVID-19 around the state have been on the rise with the delta variant, and Van Buren County has been no exception. The county now has 77 active cases, which caused the school district to advance into the next phase of its mitigation plan.

Iowa law had banned school districts from mandating masks, but a week ago a federal judge blocked that law from being enforced as part of a lawsuit raised by parents of children with disabilities.

The mandate at Van Buren requires students and staff to wear masks at all times in the building, though breaks from masks will be allowed when social distancing measures can be met.

The mandate will also apply to spectators attending events inside on district grounds. At outdoor events, masks are required when social distancing can’t be met.

Jeremy Hissem, the district superintendent, said in a video message on the district Facebook page that the decision is meant to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

“Right now we’re having a pretty good outbreak here for Van Buren County,” he said. “We ask parents help us by talking to their children about requiring masks again, and we also encourage you to provide a mask for us.”

If students and spectators don’t have a mask, the district has a stockpile that it will hand out.

The district is one of the few who has been providing regular updates to the public on virus spread. In their latest update Tuesday, the district reported there are seven absent at Harmony Elementary, and 18 at the high school. District wide, about 10% of students were absent.

Last week, the district saw about 18% of its students absent, and it had to cancel a varsity football game and two varsity volleyball games.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Van Buren county is one of the lowest in Iowa for vaccination rates, with only 36% of its eligible population fully vaccinated.

Kyle Ocker is the editor of the Ottumwa Courier and the Oskaloosa Herald. He can be reached at kocker@ottumwacourier.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kyle_Ocker.

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Kyle Ocker is a Centerville native and award-winning multimedia journalist. Kyle is currently the president of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and vice president of the Iowa Print Sports Writers Association.

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