Staff Editorial

Gov. Reynolds is obscuring Iowa's COVID-19 death toll

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds discusses the state's COVID-19 response during her daily news conference on Wednesday, May 13, 20
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds discusses the state's COVID-19 response during her daily news conference on Wednesday, May 13, 2020, at the State Emergency Operations Center in Johnston, Iowa. (Kelsey Kremer/The Des Moines Register via AP, Pool)

Without an explanation, Gov. Kim Reynolds recently started leaving out daily COVID-19 fatality numbers at her news conferences. Her office also stopped sending daily news releases with the death count.

Asked about the omissions on Wednesday, Reynolds said it’s because that data is available on the state’s coronavirus website. The administration launched a revamped website last week, part of what the governor calls her transparent and data-driven response to the pandemic.

The new has some improved features but lacks in accessibility. Death figures for each county and 24-hour statewide death counts are obscured or hidden. The website shows some top-line data but doesn’t illustrate hot spots and trends or prominently display the number of new cases in the past 24 hours.

Maybe these are innocent oversights, or maybe it’s something worse: Government leaders politicizing the flow of information.

Reynolds last week went on something of a victory tour, publishing a national guest column and going to a White House event to tout Iowa’s success in addressing the coronavirus epidemic. It would have been a bad look for Reynolds to come home and announce the second- and third-highest COVID-19 death counts to date — as with the 18 and 17 deaths reported Tuesday and Wednesday — at the same time she was announcing new reopening procedures.

Iowa is going back to work, but who will watch the children?

It would have been a bad look, but a necessary one. Iowans are not well served when our leaders shy away from acknowledging the wave of deaths crashing across the state. Instead of providing pertinent, up-to-date information, Reynolds is opening her news conferences with lengthy filibusters, repeating lines Iowans have heard from her several times before.


Without reliable information from the state government, citizens are turning to news outlets and independent analysts that are filling in what the state has left out. Without a common set of data, we risk pushing Iowans further into self-made echo chambers where the information may come with a partisan tint.

The governor is asking Iowans to take personal responsibility and make individual choices for their own health, but she is not giving us the localized information that would empower us to thoughtfully make such decisions. She trusts Iowans to be responsible, she says, but she apparently does not trust us enough to tell the full truth.

Governor preaches ‘personal responsibility.’ But for whom?

Daily updates on how many Iowans have been killed by this terrible disease might make us uncomfortable, and they should. That is absolutely necessary if Iowans are going to understand the gravity of the situation.

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