Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds stood before reporters this week in a state flooding with COVID-19 and tossed us some paper towels.
She required the use of masks, sort of, but stopped well short of a statewide mandate virus experts have said, repeatedly, is needed to control the spread.
If you’re indoors with 25 or more people, or outdoors with more than 100, you must wear a mask. Schools are exempt, and so are churches. Customers and employees of barbershops, salons and other personal services must wear masks. So if you’re indoors with 24 people, no worries, apparently.
Eight people can walk into a bar, as a group, so long as they stay six feet from other groups. Bring a tape measure and an abacus.
I guess it’s better than nothing, which is what we’ve seen for many weeks. On Oct. 4, not long before Reynolds gave her last media briefing before the election, 389 Iowans were hospitalized with COVID-19 and the trend lines didn’t look good. Now, more than 1,100 are hospitalized and our health care system is straining.
In between, the governor attended a large, mostly maskless, campaign rally for President Donald Trump on Oct. 14, a day we saw 482 hospitalizations. Vice President Mike Pence jetted in for another rally on Oct. 29, when 602 were hospitalized. Reynolds was busy hitting the campaign trail in October while we added more than 60,000 COVID-19 cases.
On Election Day, 777 Iowans were in the hospital fighting the virus. On Nov. 5, Reynolds proclaimed that the election was a “validation” of her COVID response.
“Iowans said in this election they want to get through it. They want to figure out a way to move on,” Reynolds said. “They, you know, agree with how we’ve handled COVID-19.”
The 912 Iowans in the hospital that day were unavailable for comment.
So Reynolds’ strategy did have an ultimate goal. It wasn’t to control the virus, protect public health or shield our health care system from an onslaught.
She was seeking political validation. Look at vote totals instead of the list of dead Iowans.
But who really won? Coronavirus should demand a recount.
Her announcement of new measures this week felt like a hastily assembled, last-minute science project. She had to turn in something. Dr. Eli Perencevich, an infectious disease expert at the University of Iowa, dubbed it a “nothingburger” on Twitter.
“Gov. Reynolds’ latest steps to fight COVID are like buying a smoke detector after your house is blazing out of control,” said Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, in a statement.
The governor could have mandated masks, sending a strong signal just like the GOP governor of Utah did this week. Gov. Gary Herbert also ordered a two-week ban on gatherings, beefed up testing and other measures. Reynolds could have banned most gatherings for the time being. With the state sitting on a huge budget surplus, it’s been suggested we could pay bars and restaurants to remain closed for a few weeks. Why not give all schools the option of going online through Thanksgiving?
The less we do, the worse this gets. It’s a lesson the governor has not yet absorbed.
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