Iowa’s coronavirus cases are on the rise. And who could have predicted it? Except nearly everyone.
From the outset, Gov. Reynolds was one of five governors who refused to issue a stay-at-home order. In early March, as Iowa’s COVID-19 count rose, Reynolds banned large gatherings, but still allowed a horse auction to continue, which drew over 600 people.
Iowans were encouraged to stay home if sick and practice personal responsibility. Reynolds closed some businesses and tried to shut down abortions, meanwhile craft stores and sporting goods stores remained open. Bans were ever only lightly enforced. In Cedar Rapids, despite bar owners and restaurant patrons insisting on violating the order, 5 of the 9 people charged with violating the order were Black teens.
The week of April 6, Iowa’s cases reached a critical level and Reynolds closed shopping malls, bowling alleys and amusement parks. But meat packing plants, where the virus claimed thousands of victims, remained open. “We are doing everything we can,” Reynolds said repeatedly, without doing everything she could.
On the advice of Ashton Kutcher, Reynold’s paid $26 million for a haphazard testing system that has been plagued with problems from the start.
The closures worked for a while. Iowa’s numbers flattened, and Reynolds commenced reopening. Experts and epidemiologist warned against reopening, arguing that even just two more weeks of closures could save lives and make going back to school in the fall safer. But Reynolds insisted, saying we have to learn to live with the virus. Learn to accept the deaths. In May and June, businesses were back open. Iowans gathered en masse and unmasked in bars, restaurants and nightclubs. Apparently, we were all just “in this together” until Applebee’s opened.
And now, the positive infection rate is 9.5 percent. Up from a positivity rate of 6.34 percent for the week of June 29. Iowa has the nation’s 11th worse rate of new cases per 100,000 people. And the state’s rapid increases mean we are included on a travel advisories from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
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Despite the obvious increase, Reynolds insists things are fine. At a June 30 news conference, Reynolds stated, “We’re not seeing what’s happening in Florida and Texas and Arizona. I’m seeing the positivity rate go down, I’m seeing hospitalizations go down.”
It’s the same PR spin that’s being mimicked by the White House. On June 23, at a rally in Phoenix, Ariz., a city being impaled by the spike in infection rates, Donald Trump said the virus is “going away.” It’s akin to Noah standing in the middle of a flood, insisting he doesn’t need an ark.
Across the nation, governors and officials have just given up on overseeing the crisis and are passing responsibility down to citizens. The United States has only 4 percent of the world’s population, but accounts for 25 percent of COVID-19 cases. Officials are downplaying the severity of the crisis, in hopes of catalyzing the economy. Others are desperately trying to connect the rise in cases to the anti-racists protests that drew thousands of Americans to the street. But there is little data to support that theory. Instead, the cases have risen because Americans, refusing to wear masks, gather inside restaurants and bars and churches.
Recently, Reynolds removed thousands of Iowans from the list of current infections, because the state hadn’t heard from those who were sick. That bit of magical thinking changed Iowa’s recovery rate from 62 percent to 80 percent. It’s book cooking, but with the lives of Iowans. For many victims of the virus, recovery means pain, shortness of breath, neurological and cognitive issues for months after the virus leaves their system. But PR is not an effective strategy when Iowans are dying.
Saying things are fine, just fine doesn’t erase the thousands of Iowans who are sick and will continue to get sick. And who could have predicted this? I mean, besides all the experts that Reynolds is refusing to listen to.
This column has been updated to reflect more recent numbers of people in Cedar Rapids charged with violating the Governor’s ban on large gatherings.