Staff Columnist

Living with it in Kim Reynolds' Iowa as the virus spreads

President Donald Trump pumps his fist at supporters after speaking at an airport campaign rally, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 202
President Donald Trump pumps his fist at supporters after speaking at an airport campaign rally, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

“We must learn to stop worrying and live with the coronavirus,” said Dr. Strangelove, noted epidemiologist.

OK, maybe not. But it is exactly what Gov. Kim Reynolds has prescribed.

It’s been nearly six months since Reynolds first implored us to “learn to live with COVID virus activity without letting it govern our lives,” at an April 27 briefing as she announced initial steps to lift restrictions and reopen much of the state. Public health experts warned that Reynolds was acting too soon as the virus continued to rapidly spread.

On April 27, Iowa had 5,868 COVID-19 cases and 127 people had died. Roughly 300 were hospitalized.

Iowa now has recorded more than 103,000 cases and more than 1,500 are dead. More than 480 Iowans are hospitalized as of this writing and the state’s test positivity rate is topping 20 percent, among the nation’s highest rates. We’re a hot spot refusing to cool down.

Who could have seen it coming?

But if you think Reynolds will make any course correction as winter brings the threat of a more severe virus surge, I’m worried not enough oxygen is getting through your face mask.

“It goes back to the same thing we’ve said from the very beginning. And that is stay home when you’re sick, wash your hands often, social distance, if you can’t, wear a face covering,” Reynolds said in an interview Wednesday with Gazette Executive Editor Zack Kucharski as part of the Iowa Ideas Conference.

Once again, without much feeling.

“And I think if we all really practice those simple things we can all help really bring down the positivity rate and start to reduce community spread and get through this … But we have to learn how to live with it until we have a reliable vaccine or we have therapeutics that we know are effective. We have to learn how to live with it. We’re moving through that.”

Just hours later Reynolds was on stage at a rally for President Donald Trump in Des Moines that drew thousands to the city’s airport. Supporters were packed in close with no regard for social distancing rules spelled out in the governor’s own public health proclamations. Many were maskless, including Reynolds as she tossed out Trump hats like rolls of Puerto Rican paper towels.

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“Thank you honey,” our recently infected president said to Reynolds at the rally.

Putting a big cherry on top of this Trumpian superspreader sundae, former Gov. Terry Branstad boasted that Iowa has handled the pandemic better than any other state, citing a study that had nothing to do with how states controlled the virus. He must have sat in on an authoritarian propaganda 101 course while he was ambassador in Beijing.

Asked earlier Wednesday whether she feared winter would bring a return to restrictions used last spring, Reynolds went straight for a tidbit of Trump-style misinformation.

“Now you have WHO coming out and saying a lockdown is the absolute wrong thing to do,” Reynolds said.

Well, not exactly.

One World Health Organization envoy told a British magazine recently that the WHO does “not advocate lockdowns as a primary means of control of the virus.”

“The only time we believe a lockdown is justified is to buy you time to reorganize, regroup, rebalance your resources, protect your health workers who are exhausted. But by and large, we’d rather not do it,” said envoy David Nabarro. He called for a series of mitigation strategies.

Of course, Iowa squandered its early restrictions and never put in place a testing and contact tracing strategy ambitious enough to actually control virus spread. Based on testing targets set by the Harvard Global Health Institute, Iowa is conducting just 13 percent of the tests needed to mitigate virus spread. That’s tied for the 2nd worst rate in the nation.

And “lockdown!” is not the only alternative to “live with it.” We could have beefed up testing and contract tracing. We could mandate face coverings to send a stronger message to the macho and maskless, and also back businesses requiring masks. We could actually act like we mean it when we say large gatherings with no social distancing are a really bad idea.

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We could do, you know, the sort of things the White House Coronavirus Task Force recommended for Iowa this week, saying mitigation efforts must increase to stop the virus’ rapid spread here.

Instead, we’ll keep fudging the data to make it look better, hiding meatpacking outbreaks, refusing to report cases in schools and spouting platitudes. We’ll “purposefully target,” whatever that means. Instead of public health experts we’ll keep following the lead of our superhuman president who beat COVID-19 through his sheer iron will, and health care none of us can buy.

We’ll continue to craft our policies so as not to bother folks living in rural Iowa, even as cases in rural areas climb. Urban areas are on their own, but, by the way, according to the governor, cities have no power to do anything.

No worries, it’s just old people, immigrants and college kids getting COVID. And it’s all good so long as there’s an empty hospital bed waiting for you.

And above all, masks optional.

“Wear a mask. Don’t wear a mask. The information continues to change,” Reynolds said.

Now the president is buying into the lunacy of “herd immunity” and it won’t be long before it becomes a Reynolds talking point.

Just hope you’ll be in the herd that gets to keep living with it.

(319) 398-8262; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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