JOHNSTON — Gov. Kim Reynolds continued her pleas Tuesday for Iowans to take the proper steps in helping slow the exploding spread of COVID-19 in the state.
Just hours earlier on Monday evening, in what is believed to be the first live address on prime-time TV from an Iowa governor, Reynolds issued new public health orders including a partial requirement for face masks in public — a mandate she had eschewed for weeks as unnecessary, having said she trusts Iowans to do the right thing without government orders.
But the latest report from the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force says her new orders do not go far enough. For the first time, this week’s federal report lists all of Iowa’s 99 counties as in the “red zone” — up from 95 a week earlier — in an “exponential and unyielding” escalation.
During a news conference Tuesday at the Iowa PBS studios in Johnston, Reynolds renewed her pleas as Iowa has continued setting records for COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
“If we all don’t step up and do what we need to do to help manage the virus, it’s going to get worse. We’re seeing that,” Reynolds said.
Her new orders include a requirement that anyone in a public indoor setting while also within 6 feet of other people for at least 15 minutes must wear a face mask.
Reynolds for months had dismissed calls for a mask mandate from public health and medical officials outside her administration — and from local officials, including in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, who acted on their own even as Reynolds said they do not have the authority.
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She did, however, encourage Iowans to wear masks as part of an overall strategy that includes social distancing, washing hands and staying home when sick.
When asked Tuesday about the science of face masks being a deterrent to spreading the disease, Reynolds said there is “science on both sides.”
Her spokesman later said Reynolds meant to say something else — that while people think there is science both supporting and refuting the effectiveness of masks, Reynolds believes studies that have shown masks are effective.
“There’s science on both sides,” Reynolds said at the news conference. “If you look, you can find whatever you want to support wherever you’re at. So what I’m saying is let’s do everything we can. Everybody needs to step up and help us stop the spread, and these are some things you can do, and they’re really relatively simple.”
Public health and infectious disease experts are in near unanimous agreement that face masks help slow COVID-19’s spread by preventing people from spreading infected droplets out of their mouths and noses. Federal and international health organizations recommend face masks be worn in public. And multiple scientific studies have confirmed face masks’ effectiveness in slowing the virus’ spread.
Iowa has the third-highest rate of COVID-19 spread in the country, according to the latest White House pandemic task force report.
It said all the counties have rates of 101 or more new cases a day per 100,000 population.
“The mask requirements in limited settings are a good start for Iowa to slow the spread; however, this recommendation needs to be expanded to all public settings,” the report said.
The state’s rolling 14-day average for new COVID-19 cases Tuesday crept over 4,000 for the first time during the pandemic. The state’s 14-day average for daily new deaths also hit at an all-time high Tuesday, and so did the number of Iowans currently hospitalized for COVID-19: 1,510. That’s triple what it was just four weeks ago. And the 14-day average of new COVID-19 hospitalizations has doubled over just the past two weeks.
“Of course we all know that’s not sustainable,” Reynolds said.
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The White House report calls for all students and teachers in K-12 schools to wear masks; but there is no such requirement in Iowa.
The federal report says states should consider pausing extracurricular activities, including athletics, because transmission is taking place not between the participants, but the “surrounding activities.”
Reynolds’ new orders paused youth sports, but not high school athletics. The new orders do limit the number of spectators at athletic events.
Reynolds also issued a call for Iowans who have been infected with and recovered from COVID-19 to donate plasma to a blood center that can use it in a new treatment that has been helping some patients recover.
The treatment is called convalescent plasma therapy and uses blood from people who have recovered from the illness because it contains antibodies.
Christine Hayes, chief operating officer at LifeServe Blood Center of Iowa, and Sue Kasperbauer, an Iowa woman who had COVID-19 and has since been donating her plasma, spoke at the news conference.
Hayes said each donation can help four COVID-19 patients.
“I remember telling my nurse that I felt so much better afterward, like my body woke up again after 10 days of being in a lot of pain,” Kasperbauer said, adding that she has since donated multiple times. “I just feel good about being able to give back to the community when I (donate). … If you’ve had COVID, this is something you can do.”
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