CORONAVIRUS

OK Iowa, get ready for a second spike in coronavirus cases

Members of the Iowa National Guard work the check-in tent May 14 for testing patients at the Kirkwood Community College
Members of the Iowa National Guard work the check-in tent May 14 for testing patients at the Kirkwood Community College Test Iowa coronavirus testing site in Cedar Rapids. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

It seemed that for a few short weeks Americans were going to care about each other. That we were going to shut down and do the right thing to protect the lives of the vulnerable from a virus whose impact on our bodies and our nation still is not fully known.

Dr. Eli Perencevich, epidemiologist at the University of Iowa, told me in an interview earlier this year that if the state had shut down completely in the first six weeks after the virus was confirmed here, we would have prevented a lot of illness and needless death. But we didn’t and so we are here, in a state that is reopening after it never really closed.

Face masks are suggested, but not mandatory and our leaders are not setting an example by wearing them. The governor’s guidance on reopening is just that — guidance, with not much enforcement. County officials have stepped in to offer more specific guidance, but the result of all of this is that Iowans are left to founder in a tsunami of information and misinformation.

As a result, experts are warning there will be a second spike in infection rates. Death will be the sum total of us reopening too soon.

This is not over yet. It’s not even close to over. Some experts expect it could get worse.

Earlier this month China, Lebanon, Algeria and Japan have had to close down or delay openings after a spike.

When recently asked about the danger of a new spike in cases, Gov. Kim Reynolds dismissed the concern, responding that she and her team were analyzing the situation with “real time” data and a focused approach on testing. But with Test Iowa still not achieving its promised capacity of 3,000 tests per day, and people reporting problems receiving test results in a timely manner, almost all data is lagging.

And without a sustained commitment to social distancing or face masks, the World Health Organization warns that there will be another increase in cases.

The UI College of Public Health COVID-19 Response Group has warned repeatedly that if the state continues to relax closures, new cases will spike and more people will die.

Iowa has seen over 500 lives lost to this disease so far. And the governor is allowing bars to reopen, with restrictions, and relaxing limits on gatherings of 10 or more.

Reynolds has said repeatedly she will not close down the state. She believes there are enough hospital beds and personal protective equipment available while we learn to live with the disease. What that really means is that there are enough beds in the state for us to die in.

On Tuesday, Reynolds said, “Our recovery is contingent on our ability to protect both the lives and the livelihoods of Iowans. We can’t prioritize one over the other. We must prioritize both to move forward.”

Long ago, the governor stopped reporting at her news conferences the number of Iowans who have died of the virus.

When she said that Tuesday, she admitted what thus far no political leader has wanted to say out loud: Our lives don’t matter more than the economy.

But we should prioritize lives over livelihood. Without our lives there is no livelihood. Our existence must be valued far above and beyond our economic value.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, people have been emailing me to tell me this is “not that bad.” So what if a few people die — people die all the time, they say. Ironically, many of these are the same people who call me a murderer for supporting a woman’s right to choose.

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“COVID hasn’t killed more people than the flu” is a common refrain. First of all, by the middle of June if not sooner, that will no longer be true for Iowa.

Second, I no longer respond to those emails, because I don’t know how to say over and over, “We have to care about people.” I don’t know how to say over and over that life matters and that I am sad when anyone dies, especially a death that might have been prevented by political leaders who should be valuing our lives over our livelihood.

So get ready for the second spike. Maybe this time we will care long enough for it to make a difference.

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Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

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

All donations are tax-deductible.