Staff Columnist

Listen up, Iowa. It's time to go rogue on masks

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds arrives July 7 at a news conference in Urbandale to provide an update on the state's response to
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds arrives July 7 at a news conference in Urbandale to provide an update on the state’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. (Charlie Neibergall/AP))

Iowa’s mayors are staging a coup. Muscatine Mayor Diana Broderson and Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague both have unilaterally declared that masks in public are mandatory in their cities.

Gov. Kim Reynolds, who never issued a stay-at-home order and despite the warnings of experts widely reopened up the state only to see cases of COVID-19 spread more quickly than butter on an ear of grilled corn, said cities don’t have the legal authority to issue such mandates.

“Gov. Reynolds encourages Iowans who are interacting with others where social distancing is impossible to wear masks,” Reynolds’ spokesman Pat Garrett said in an email to The Gazette. “But she does not believe a governmental mask mandate is appropriate.”

This is the same governor who believes in liberty and freedom so much that she thinks it’s appropriate to sign into law legislation that reaches all the way up into my uterus like some sort of arcade claw machine, and restricts the ability of the Iowa Secretary of State to send out absentee ballot request forms. But protecting Iowans from a virus that has killed over 800 of them so far? That’s where she draws the arbitrary line.

Reynolds will cut family planning services and drag her heels signing an order giving released felons the right to vote. But masks in a pandemic where people are dying? Grab your collective pearls because that would really squash liberty. In Iowa, personal freedom apparently is reserved for those who want to go to an Applebee’s without a mask.

The debate between personal liberty and a mask mandate is, at its core, a logical fallacy. A mask does not restrict a person’s freedom of movement. Instead it just restricts your COVID-19 breath from infecting your neighbor. And with nearly 150,000 dead in the United States so far, wearing a mask is a small inconvenience.

Iowa City’s proclamation is the strongest so far. In Muscatine, the city is refusing to allocate funds to enforce it.

But in a state where we aren’t doing anything else, something is better than nothing.

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“We have to do something,” Teague explained in a Facebook livestream. “Someone has to ensure that citizens of our community are doing their part. We have asked people to wear masks. We have many in the community wearing them, but there are still an increase in the numbers and some people aren’t doing it. So it’s necessary to mandate masks for everyone in the community.”

He’s right. Our state needs the adults in the room to actually show up and lead. Right now, leaders at our state, city and county levels are using Reynolds’ lax rules to justify in-person meetings, school openings, university classes, summer sports, birthday parties and other large gathering, and — in West Union — a county fair with a midway and food stands. We have water parks open and live music inside of bars.

But outside the gates of our barbecues, people are dying. And we could stop it. We could. This doesn’t have to be the reality.

How quick our leaders were to come to terms with our elderly population dying; how quick we were to explain away the deaths and illnesses of meatpacking plant workers and front-line employees; and people of color who are getting COVID-19 at higher rates than their white counterparts — all in the name of the economy.

But that, too, was a false binary because the economy isn’t going to recover from these openings if they continue to cause outbreaks.

In a state where there are no adults in the room, it’s nice to see some mayors crashing into the halls of power like the Kool-Aid man and doing what no one else has the courage to do: Try to save lives. And this time, a governor who believes in freedom should step aside and let them. Because so far, she’s given up on trying.

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

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