8th Cir.: Lower Risk of COVID Permits Dropping Mask Injunction

Frank Ferreri

Des Moines, IA (WorkersCompensation.com) – As schools reopened during the middle of the pandemic, the rise of the delta and omicron variants raised safety concerns that included the health and wellbeing of school staff, including teachers, administrators, and workers.

Such concerns led many states and school districts to require students and employees to mask up on school grounds and at school functions, but as the pandemic subsides, the push for COVID-related restrictions has loosened up, as was the case in Arc of Iowa v. Reynolds, No. 21-3268 (8th Cir. 05/16/22).

Change in Circumstances

The case involved an earlier court-issued injunction that prevented enforcement of a state law that allowed for optional masking in schools. According to the 8th Circuit, the injunction became moot for the following reasons:

  • Current conditions differed vastly from those prevailing when the lower court issued the injunction
  • COVID-19 vaccines became available to children and adolescents over the age of four, greatly decreasing children’s risk of serious bodily injury or death from contracting COVID-19 at school
  • When the case first came up, delta was the dominant variant, producing high transmission rates and case loads throughout the country, but omicron became dominant and subsided, leaving markedly lower transmission rates and case loads.

With changing conditions, the 8th Circuit determined that the court no longer needed to suspend a mask-optional rule for schools.

Stil a Risk?

A dissenting judge did not believe the risk from COVID had sufficiently passed to justify voluntary masking.

“We cannot simply assume that the changes in the pandemic in the months since the parties compiled the record are sufficient to constitute changed circumstances,” the dissenter wrote. “Vaccine availability, case rates, and CDC guidance alone do not reflect individual risk.”

As has been the case for much of the past 26 months, the 8th Circuit decision points to the dilemmas and controversies that school districts — and other employers — will likely continue to face in the new COVID normal.