As a nurse and union leader in Iowa City, I have seen Iowans demonstrate incredible bravery during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this moment, we have come together to build a better future for our neighbors, our kids, and our grandkids.
Because Iowans value community care, we’ve pushed for a COVID-19 response that recognizes the interconnected nature of our health, our safety, and the economy. While some legislators have chosen to prioritize corporate profits, Iowans see a different way forward: a way where every person is healthy, safe, and economically secure.
Because Iowans believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person, we’ve spoken out for a statewide pandemic response that ensures health care, testing, and treatment as a human right. Initiatives like Stay Safe Iowa have urged lawmakers to make comprehensive health care for all people the top priority in any COVID-19 response.
Because Iowans know we work better when we work together, we’ve come up with innovative solutions to contain COVID-19. Iowa MADE, a University of Iowa initiative, is printing face shields for health care workers. In Des Moines, Black Lives Matter leaders are battling racism and a pandemic. These courageous advocates are requiring masks at all marches and rallies, and they’re working to distribute masks to the community.
Unfortunately, while Iowans focus on responding effectively to COVID-19, our governor has dropped the ball. Over the past few weeks, Kim Reynolds has promoted a reckless rush to reopen Iowa, putting meatpacking plant profits over the health and safety of essential workers in Iowa’s packing plants and restaurants. This dangerous pro-corporate agenda will especially affect workers who are poor, undocumented, disabled, and people of color.
Hot spots across Iowa make it clear that Reynolds’ plan, a national embarrassment, has failed us all. In Buena Vista County, where Reynolds allowed a Tyson plant to unsafely continue operations, COVID-19 is spreading like wildfire. At the time of writing, over 1 in 12 Buena Vista County residents has COVID-19, and the New York Times has classified the county as the 16th-largest major hot spot in the nation for new cases.
Reynolds has also refused to implement common-sense containment strategies. In many states, governors, city leaders, and county officials have required the wearing of masks and face shields in workplaces and public spaces. Iowa has no requirement for mask-wearing in any situation, and it ranks dead-last in requiring masks or face coverings in public. Public health experts agree that requiring mask usage would help stop the spread in Iowa and across the country. If the governor doesn’t listen to these experts, cases will only increase.
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Iowans can stop the spread of COVID-19 by implementing common-sense solutions and collaborating across our differences. It’s time to put people before dangerous pandemic politics and initiate a COVID-19 containment strategy that protects our families. That starts with a universal face-covering policy that requires masks and face shields in public and on the job.
Requiring masks and face shields at work and in public would protect all Iowans, especially front-line nurses and health care workers exposed to COVID-19. Stay Safe Iowa, a project of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, is leading the charge to #MaskUpIA with a statewide face-covering policy, guaranteed hazard pay, and union rights for essential workers.
A plan to require face coverings should come from the statehouse, but if state officials won’t act, county and city leaders should implement this people-centered policy without delay. Requiring face coverings is the best chance we have at ensuring health and safety for all people. I know that we can persevere through this crisis if we work together. That’s what Iowans do best.
Cathy Glasson is a nurse, the president of SEIU Local 199, a member of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, and a 2018 candidate for governor.