Staff Columnist

How Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds is slashing regulations to fight COVID-19

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds holds a news conference on COVID-19 at the State Emergency Operations Center in Johnston, IA, on
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds holds a news conference on COVID-19 at the State Emergency Operations Center in Johnston, IA, on Monday, April 6, 2020.

Perhaps the biggest failure in the United States’ response to the coronavirus — which has been one of the worst pandemic responses among major nations — was not the result of inaction, but rather overregulation.

It was the lack of widespread testing when COVID-19 first emerged, which robbed Americans of any opportunity to track and contain the disease by less draconian means than lockdowns. The testing fiasco is attributable to overbearing health care regulations and the behemoth central government’s inability to quickly adapt in the face of an international crisis.

At first, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention insisted only its internally developed test could be used, even as questions arose about the reliability of the results. Further, the feds initially barred private labs and even some state labs from running tests, diminishing capacity at a crucial stage in the outbreak.

Regulations since have been relaxed and testing capacity is increasing, but it is too late. We know the virus now is spreading undetected in every state, leaving us only with a 1918 response to a 2020 crisis.

In the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, government officials are loosening regulations to stimulate the health care system and increase capacity. By design, this is a game of catch-up, leading us to wonder whether all these rules and restrictions were necessary in the first place.

What if there were libertarians in an epidemic?

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has signed a series of executive orders that include a long list of regulatory waivers, starting with several in her first order declaring a public health disaster emergency in mid-March. Most of them are great ideas, pandemic or not.

Reynolds has loosened the state’s certificate of need rules, which require health care facilities to seek government permission before expanding their services. Certificate of need laws tend to protect existing providers by stifling competition, which decreases health care options and increases costs. Fifteen states have no such requirement, and there’s a bill in the Iowa Legislature to abolish the practice.

Iowa and other states are bolstering telemedicine options by temporarily removing requirements for face-to-face interactions for some medical needs. The Food and Drug Administration is even allowing veterinary telemedicine; I’m sure there’s a very good reason that is regulated by the federal government, but I can’t think of it right now.

The Trump administration said it would waive licensing requirements so medical professionals can cross state lines to work. Turns out, the president doesn’t really have the authority to do that, since licensure is governed by the states.

Luckily, the states had his back on that one, with measures to recognize licenses from other states and extend eligibility for recently lapsed licensees. In the Iowa Legislature, there is a bill for universal licensing recognition, which could increase the state’s stock of skilled professionals in health care and other fields.

Many businesses are stepping up to help meet increased demand for hand sanitizing products, including some booze distilleries and ethanol plants in Iowa, but they are being met with a complicated web of state and federal regulations. For at least one positive development, the U.S. Treasury published guidance allowing producers to use tax-free alcohol for some hand sanitizer purposes.

On the same subject, the Transportation Security Administration is allowing travelers to carry up to 12 ounces of hand sanitizer on flights. It’s almost like the 3.4-ounce rule is totally arbitrary.

The federal government also is relaxing its discriminatory policy against blood donations from men who have sex with men. For now, such donors have to wait only three months after their last sexual contact, rather than a full year. Human rights groups continue lobbying to remove the restriction altogether, but it’s a start.

There’s nothing like an infectious disease pandemic to make us realize what’s really important. Economic protectionism, federal supremacy and the nanny state lose their appeal when lives are on the line. May we carry these lessons forward after the pandemic is gone.

adam.sullivan@thegazette.com; (319) 339-3156

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