CORONAVIRUS

Gov. Kim Reynolds defends lack of face mask mandate

She says some people disagree with the science

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (left), flanked by state education department director Ann Lebo and state epidemiologist Dr. Cait
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (left), flanked by state education department director Ann Lebo and state epidemiologist Dr. Caitlin Pedati, speaks Thursday during a news conference in the Robert Ray Conference Room at the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines. (Erin Murphy/Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau.)

DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds on Thursday said some people “would tell you just the opposite” of scientists who say face masks help slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

Reynolds made the comment during a news conference while defending the fact that she has not mandated all Iowans wear face masks in public.

When a reporter noted that scientists have said face masks help slow the spread of the virus, Reynolds responded, “But there’s people that would tell you just the opposite.”

Public health and infectious disease experts are in near unanimous agreement that face coverings are effective in slowing the spread of the new coronavirus, and multiple studies have verified that.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization recommend individuals wear face masks in public. Iowa’s public health department also recommends face masks for Iowans when they are unable to remain at least 6 feet away from other people.

“Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus — particularly when used universally within a community setting,” federal CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield said in a recent statement.

There are 42 states that require face masks in public or for certain workers, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization that monitors federal and states’ health care policy. Iowa is not among them.

Reynolds has consistently promoted the state public health department guidance that Iowans should wear face masks when they are in public and come within 6 feet of other people. Her administration recently started a public campaign urging Iowans to wear masks, and she reiterated the recommendation during Thursday’s news conference.

But Reynolds has stopped short of issuing a mandate that all Iowans wear face masks in public. She says a mandate would be difficult to enforce and suggested that some states with mask mandates still have seen increases in coronavirus cases.

However, one study published in June determined that U.S. states that have mandated the use of face masks in public experienced a greater decline in daily coronavirus cases compared to states without a mandate.

And a CDC study found a mask mandate was “likely a contributing factor” in preventing spread of the virus in a Missouri hair salon where two stylists were infected with the virus but did not transmit it to any of their customers.

Reynolds said Thursday she thinks most Iowans are wearing face masks in public, even without a mandate.

“All along we’ve said if you can’t social distance, wear a mask. We know that those are two things that can help slow the spread and have an impact on COVID-19 in our state. I believe that Iowans are doing the right thing, and I’m doing it through a PR campaign,” Reynolds said. “There’s not a silver bullet. There’s not a single answer.”

Statewide, Iowa’s coronavirus cases have surged back to near the state’s first peak of positive test results in early May, according to state public health data. Virus-related deaths and hospitalizations also have been climbing, albeit more gradually than cases.

As of Thursday afternoon, more than 44,000 Iowans had contracted the virus and 857 Iowans have died of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, since the pandemic first arrived here in early March.

Comments: (563) 333-2659; erin.murphy@lee.net

Support our coverage

Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please subscribe. Your subscription will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

Support our coverage

Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please subscribe. Your subscription will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.