CORONAVIRUS

Hundreds of doctors urge Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds to mandate masks

'This is not about politics,' Des Moines physician says

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds arrives at a July 7 news conference in Urbandale to update the state's response to the coronaviru
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds arrives at a July 7 news conference in Urbandale to update the state’s response to the coronavirus. About 290 doctors have written the governor, asking her to mandate the use of face coverings in public places to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. (Associated Press)

Nearly 300 Iowa doctors have signed a letter urging Gov. Kim Reynolds to issue a statewide mask mandate, joining the call from top health care groups for stronger COVID-19 mitigation measures even as the governor resists such an order.

About 290 doctors signed the letter sent to the governor Wednesday, asking her to require use of a mask or other facial covering in public spaces in order to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

At a minimum, a mandate should apply to all Iowans inside enclosed public spaces, with an exception for those who can’t “medically tolerate” facial coverings, the letter states.

“We remain deeply concerned that a surge of COVID-19 cases in Iowa is imminent as currently witnessed in numerous other states,” according to the letter, which was made available online. “We believe more can be done through state public health policy to help prevent Iowa from suffering the same fate.”

The physicians also plan a Saturday morning news conference on the steps of the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines, according to a news release.

In the letter, physicians cited an Iowa Poll published in June that found just 54 percent of respondents reporting wearing masks “almost all of the time or most of the time” when in public indoor spaces.

Therefore, the letter states, government recommendations on the use of facial coverings “appear to be insufficient to compel widespread adoption of this important public health measure.”

“In light of the convincing scientific evidence surrounding public use of face coverings, we as physicians are now compelled to take a stand and call for more effective public health policy to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” said Dr. Austin Baeth, an internal medicine physician in Des Moines and organizer of the physician group.

“This is about using science to protect the lives of our patients, friends and family in Iowa,” Baeth said. “This is not about politics.”

Wednesday’s letter comes just days after the Iowa Medical Society and other top organizations representing more than 12,000 health care professionals in Iowa submitted a similar public appeal to Reynolds.

The letter — sent to the governor Monday — stated voluntary efforts “have failed to yield sufficient progress” in flattening the virus’ curve. Instead, they asked Reynolds to require masks for all Iowans aged 2 and older while in public.

“It is now apparent that stronger measures are necessary to better protect our fellow Iowans,” said Dr. Brian Privett, president of the Iowa Medical Society.

While Reynolds has strengthened her appeals in recent weeks for Iowans to “do their part,” she has resisted mandating the public health measure as a part of the state’s COVID-19 response.

“Gov. Reynolds encourages Iowans who are interacting with others where social distancing is impossible to wear masks. But she does not believe a government-mandated mask mandate is appropriate,” Pat Garrett, the governor’s spokesman, said earlier this week.

Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague issued a proclamation requiring face masks in public spaces earlier this month, citing emergency powers granted to mayors under Iowa Code. The mayor of Muscatine issued a similar order, and Linn and Johnson County supervisors are discussing mandated use of face coverings in public.

Comments: (319) 398-8469; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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