Staff Columnist

Iowa's 'Live with it' governor wants us to take COVID-19 seriously

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds gives a primetime televised address announcing new efforts to combat COVID-19 in the state, on Mo
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds gives a primetime televised address announcing new efforts to combat COVID-19 in the state, on Monday, Nov. 16, 2020, at Iowa PBS, in Johnston, Iowa. (Kelsey Kremer/The Des Moines Register via AP)

“Live with it,” is out. “This is serious!” is in.

“If Iowans don’t buy into this, we lose,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a prime-time address to Iowans Tuesday on the worsening COVID-19 pandemic. “Businesses will close once again. More schools will be forced to go online. Our health care system will fail and the cost of human life will be high. So now is the time to come together for the greater good.”

No one could remember a similar gubernatorial address. And it could have been truly historic had it happened weeks ago, when coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and deaths were beginning their sharp ascent in Iowa. That’s back when Reynolds was giving campaign speeches and tossing out hats to the maskless folks at a Trump rally. But on Tuesday, it was simply an exercise damage control.

Far from a rally, Reynolds stood alone at a lectern in a largely empty room, pleading for Iowans to take the virus seriously. She announced a mask “mandate” of sorts, requiring masks if you’re inside and closer than six feet to other people for 15 minutes or more, unless it’s a church or a school, or you’re eating and drinking. Bring a mask, a flow chart and a stopwatch. She also limited the size of gatherings and ordered bars and restaurants to close at 10.

With all the loopholes and exceptions, the governor won’t get the buy-in she’s envisioning. And looking at the awful numbers, we’re already losing. Reynolds insists this is happening “everywhere,” but these Midwestern outbreaks with their sharp, steep climbs in cases and hospitalizations are clearly the nation’s worst.

Reynolds demanded we buy into a very different message for months. She told us over and over to just “live with it.” We threw open much of the state in April and then did precious little beyond closing some college bars in September. Infectious disease experts have long predicted the dire consequences of our inaction, but the governor wouldn’t buy in. Her team has given us numbers that don’t add up, kept key data secret and stonewalled journalists, whom she accused of peddling scare tactics.

Now more than 2,000 Iowans are dead and the health care system has been pushed to the brink of buckling under COVID’s growing weight. Always reactive, never proactive, Reynolds now needs our help.

Many of us already wear masks in public, practice distancing and avoid large gatherings. The governor really needs to sell this to the stubbornly maskless on her side of the political divide. If she can’t reach the Republican voters who just “validated” her approach, who can?

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Already, according to Bleeding Heartland, state Rep. Stephen Holt, R-Denison, has taken to Facebook to denounce the governor’s order as an infringement on our constitutional rights. Holt, the current Judiciary Committee chairman, vows to re-evaluate the governor’s emergency powers.

A small group of pastors also announced opposition, arguing mask rules “violate the holy law of God.”

Of course, the governor also could try dumping her futile political balancing act and start listening to medical professionals in the trenches. Do what needs to be done to contain the virus explosion and pull hospitals back from the brink. Take strong, decisive action to save lives. A vaccine is coming, but there are hard, cold months ahead. Lead us, for God’s sake, governor.

You want freedom? Control the virus. Worried about the economy? There’s no recovery while the virus rages. You want buy-in, governor? Stop selling us inaction, misinformation and incompetence.

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