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DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds on Wednesday again urged Iowans to get vaccinated as the best defense against COVID-19 and its variants, but expressed frustration with changing federal mask guidelines she said are “counterproductive” in conveying a consistent message.
Speaking to reporters, the governor said she has not seen data to support new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending that even vaccinated people who live in communities with elevated transmission rates again wear masks indoors. Many — but not all — counties in Iowa are rated as having substantial or high rates of virus transmission.
According to state data released Wednesday, Iowa has seen an average of 308 new COVID-19 cases a day over the last week — the highest it has been in over two months.
Reynolds, however, said that new cases have been similar regardless of whether states have mask mandates
“It’s frustrating, it’s confusing,” the governor said. “They’re sending mixed messages constantly. They’re telling Americans and Iowans if you get a vaccine, you don’t have to wear a mask and then two weeks later they change the message on that. I think it’s contradictory.
“I think it sets us back in what we’re trying to do with encouraging people to get vaccinated,” Reynolds added. “I don’t feel that we should punish everybody because some have made the decision not to.”
CDC data indicates nearly half of Iowa’s 99 counties are facing substantial or high COVID-19 spread. Over a million people are expected to attend the Iowa State Fair next month, where there are no mask or vaccine requirements.
“We’re telling people to get vaccinated, first and foremost. I’ve been very clear about that. That is the best defense to COVID. Availability is not an issue,” said Reynolds, who noted Iowa has a “pretty good” record with 65 percent of residents 18 and up having received at least one shot.
In May, Reynolds signed a bill into law that forbids Iowa schools from imposing mask mandates on students and staff, and now says she is concerned the new CDC guidelines will lead to a federal mask mandate for schools. The CDC recommended that students, teachers and staff mask up in class regardless of vaccine status or level of community spread — but said students nonetheless should be in schools this fall
During his weekly teleconference with Iowa reporters, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, expressed concern over “these conflicting opinions” from the CDC that are creating “reluctance and kind of some negative reaction.”
When the CDC issued its new guidance affecting about half the nation’s counties, “they don't tell you why,” he said.
“It'd be good if they would give this data that's so important backing up because they don't have the credibility they ought to have,” Grassley said. “I don't have any reason not to say they're a credible organization, and that they do use science. But they sure have poor public relations.”
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James Q. Lynch of The Gazette contributed.