Staff Columnist

Iowa is dying from all this success

Suzanne Khuninh-Nguyen, center, is flanked by her sister, Katelynn Khuninh, left, and niece, Suhn Khuninh as she holds a
Suzanne Khuninh-Nguyen, center, is flanked by her sister, Katelynn Khuninh, left, and niece, Suhn Khuninh as she holds a photo of their father and grandfather, Viengxay Khuninh, Friday, in the front yard of her parents' Dakota City, Nebraska, home. Viengxay Khuninh, 69, died last Friday of COVID-19. He was a worker at Tyson Fresh Meats' Dakota City beef plant. TIM HYNDS, Sioux City Journal

With over 11,000 positive COVID-19 cases in Iowa and a mounting death toll, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds went to Washington DC. to declare her approach to the pandemic a success.

Her victory lap included a sit down with the president and a Washington Post op-ed. The op-ed was co-authored with four other GOP governors and declared, the “common-sense approach helped keep our states on track and have set us up to come out of this pandemic stronger than ever.”

On May 8, Vice President Mike Pence came to Iowa to celebrate Iowa’s success. But what does Iowa’s success actually look like?

This is what Reynolds' success looks like: 231 deaths and vulnerable being forced to return to work before its safe.

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Well, two of our counties are national hot spots for the disease.

Experts from the University of Iowa project that Iowa has yet to reach it’s peak for cases and warn that without proper measures a new wave of infection will hit the state in the fall.

Iowa’s success looks like the TestIowa initiative getting off to a slow start due to problems with the test machines and thus far, failing to achieve it’s promise of 3,000 tests per day. And mounting concerns about the accuracy of the tests, after the Des Moines Register reported that several test samples were unable to be processed.

Success looks like Minnesota having 3,000 fewer positive COVID-19 cases with 2 million more residents and nearly 40,000 more tests completed.

The week of Reynolds victory lap was the week that Iowa saw a 28 percent increase in hospitalizations, a 51 percent increase in ICU admissions, and a 39 percent increase in patients needing ventilators.

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Reynolds declaring victory now is like crowning yourself the winner in Monopoly before you even made it all around the board. It’s like demanding your marathon medal on mile 13. It’s like declaring you are flattening the pandemic curve, before your COVID-19 cases skyrocket by thousands. OK, that’s not a metaphor, that’s something our governor actually did. Just weeks ago.

This is what Reynold’s success looks like: 231 deaths and vulnerable being forced to return to work before it's safe. And these are not just numbers, these are people.

Perhaps the most damaging thing that this pandemic response has done was to turn individual lives into a chart on a scoreboard. A game of chess, where we are willing to sacrifice some pawns to keep winning at making money.

AP reporter Ryan Foley noted on Twitter that those dead from COVID-19 in the state include a Bosnian refugee who left behind a heartbroken husband and a Latino father who was raising three kids on his own after their mother died of cancer last year.

Those lost include Willi Levi, one of the men who escaped servitude from the Atalissa turkey processing plant.

But as state Rep. Steve Holt argued in an op-ed this week, if we have enough room in our hospitals, why not open the economy? The logic was repeated during Reynolds May 7 news conference — our hospitals can handle it so we move forward. This is what success looks like: Enough hospital beds for us all to die in.

Before the pandemic came to the state, Holt and Reynolds were both pushing an amendment to the state constitution that would strip protections for abortion.

The Venn diagram of those people telling you COVID-19 isn’t that bad and so what, some people will die, and the people who call abortion murder is just one flat circle of hypocrisy.

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Holt has even been tweeting about how shut down orders violate our personal liberty. But where is all that personal liberty when it comes to my uterus, Holt?

Our success didn’t have to look like this. Our success could have involved fewer deaths, fewer infections and a reduced risk for a resurgence, if we had just waited two more weeks.

Dr. Eli Perencevich, professor of internal medicine and epidemiology at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, and one of the authors of a report for the Iowa Department of Public Health, which warned against reopening too soon. He spoke to me in an interview last week, where he explained that if Iowa could have remained closed just a little longer, we’d be closer to safety. Ideally, explained Perencevich, if Iowa had truly shut down immediately and decisively for two weeks in the beginning, we wouldn’t be in this situation. Absent that, shutting down for two more weeks would ensure greater safety.

This pandemic didn’t have to be a choice between the economy or lives. We are the world’s richest nation, we could have come up with a solution. But doing so would mean that we’d have to face America’s deep inequality, we’d have to enact social change and pump money into food benefits and health care, two things Reynolds has slowly been defunding during her tenure as governor. Each of these deaths was preventable not inevitable. But our governor and federal government have given up the fight, and called it success. They’ve accepted that some people will die, and even more will get sick and lose their livelihoods and income and be forced to bear mounting medical costs.

It’s easier to say you win, before you’ve even played the game. And so here we are, dying from all this success.

lyz.lenz@thegazette.com; 319-368-8513

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