Greene County Medical Center staff on Oct. 16 distributed masks and signs encouraging local residents to do their part and mask up to fight COVID-19. From left: Administrative assistant Emily Neese, CEO Tracy Warner, COO Christa Simons and marketing specialist Sydney Bishop.

District sticking to matrix

Public Health wants school to make masks mandatory


The Greene County Community School District continues to flout the wishes of Greene County Public Health by not requiring face masks at all times to curb spread of COVID-19.

With local cases of COVID-19 topping 162 as of Oct. 14, Greene County Public Health Director Becky Wolf reiterated her department’s position: that masks should be worn at school all day, every day.

“It’s not about politics. It’s not about our own beliefs,” she said this week. “It’s about doing the right thing to protect each other.”

Instead, the school district has clung to its color-coded “mask matrix,” resulting in near-daily text messages and emails to parents about buildings changing from green (masks highly encouraged) to yellow (masks required when social distancing isn’t possible) to red (masks required at all times), and back again.

As of Wednesday morning, the high school and elementary school buildings were still on red — reflecting more than one positive case in a building — but Greene County Middle School had switched back to yellow.

In an email to The Jefferson Herald, Superintendent Tim Christensen said, “The current matrix has allowed us to adjust as needed.”

But without specifically calling out the school district, Wolf this week expressed frustration.

“Every day,” she said, “we have more kids going into quarantine.”

“If something is going wrong in your life, do you keep doing the same thing?” she asked rhetorically. “It’s not a consistent message. It’s bouncing back and forth, and you can’t bounce back and forth in mitigation efforts and expect rates to go down.”

The matrix came about at the start of the school year as a compromise of sorts to mandatory masking. School board member Dr. Steve Karber, a retired physician, made a motion at the board’s Aug. 19 meeting to require masks at school, but it failed 3-2, with only Mike Dennhardt joining Karber in support of mandatory masking. Board members Steve Fisher, Catherine Wilson and John McConnell came out against.

Devised by Christensen, the matrix was then approved unanimously at the Aug. 19 meeting.

When asked this week to confirm reports of masks being worn improperly or not at all in buildings, even when on red, Christensen would only say, “We are facing similar issues in school as you see in public.”

The Paton-Churdan Community School District doesn’t have a mask matrix, and masks are only highly suggested. But as part of its Return to Learn plan filed with the Iowa Department of Education, P-C enabled teachers to require masks in their individual classrooms.

Wolf said there’s new incentive for students to wear masks, regardless of school district policy.

The Iowa Department of Public Health, she said, recently issued new recommendations that if someone is exposed to an infected person, they don’t have to automatically quarantine for 14 days if both people were masked.

“It’s a huge incentive,” she said, “because you get to keep your kid in school. It’s a win-win.”

As of Wednesday, Greene County was still the only county among its six neighbors without a death related to COVID-19.

Wolf credited the “fantastic job” of staff at local assisted-living facilities, despite “heartbreaking” restrictions in place for residents and their families.

But Wolf is usually only one grocery trip away from either seeing someone without a mask or someone wearing a mask wrong.

“It only takes one death to see things turn around,” she explained, “and I don’t want to see that.”

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