Staff Columnist

The real natural disaster

Iowans giving each other the shirts off their backs and the Covid in their lungs

Organizer Raymond Siddell speaks to volunteers at the Iowa Derecho Storm Resource Page site, 5001 First Avenue NE in nor
Organizer Raymond Siddell speaks to volunteers at the Iowa Derecho Storm Resource Page site, 5001 First Avenue NE in northeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. Siddell saw a need in the community following the Aug. 10 storm to provide food, supplies and volunteer help to residents affected by the storm that wasn’t being met. By traditional aid organizations. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

The derecho that hit Iowa on Aug. 10 was Iowa’s worst natural disaster, so far, after all 2020 has been a terrible year, and we shouldn’t give it any more ideas. In the aftermath of the storm, Iowans are congratulating each other on coming together to fill in the gaps of our failed government response.

Business leaders are posting virtue-signaling selfies of themselves handing out groceries to poor people with the hashtag #IowaStrong. And Iowans are helping Iowans. And we are helping because our city and state have failed us. There is no accountability, except in neighborhoods, where people have stepped up to organize relief that our city and county couldn’t muster.

But Iowans also are helping Iowans in another way: We are helping each other get COVID-19.

In the days immediately after the storm, neighbors were helping neighbors up close and unmasked — breathing heavily, wiping sweat as we cut down trees and handed out food. It’s hard to think about social distancing when lifting a giant oak off your roof, but COVID hasn’t gone away just because we want to come together.

Iowa’s infection rate is more than 15 percent, making us one of the worst states in the nation for infections per capita. During the past week, there have been an average of 571 cases per day. That’s an increase of 25 percent from the past two weeks. And it’s only going to get worse.

In Iowa City, hordes of students are congregating in bars, swapping fluids and droplets. Do you know what you call a group of college students drinking at The Airliner? An outbreak.

In the Iowa Storm Resource Recovery page, a popular post asked for space to plan a large-scale picnic to celebrate the recovery efforts. While some comments called out the foolishness of this idea, many others were quick to say, they weren’t afraid and weren’t going to live in fear. Which is fine for you, but in the pandemic, this isn’t about you, it’s about the people who are high-risk, whom you can pass the virus onto. It is about caring for your neighbor.

And as easy as it is to blame individuals, this is a systematic problem. Iowans had to step up because our city and county and Red Cross left people homeless and waiting for help for four days and more. Iowans aren’t wearing masks simply because they don’t have to. Because we live in a state where the virus is allowed to burn through us faster than fires in a California forest.

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And I can hear the sound of your fingers clacking out angry emails already: But what about the anti-racist protests, you will write. But here is the thing: Like the storm, the pandemic is disproportionately affecting Americans of color because of systemic racism. The very Iowans you are clapping yourself on the back to help are the Iowans who are in danger the most because of the systems we built and refuse to question. No amount of free barbecue sandwiches is going to solve inequality. In fact, if given out without a mask, it’s only going to make it worse.

So many of us were lucky to get out of the storm with our lives. More than 1,000 Iowans and more will not be able to say the same about the pandemic.

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

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