Staff Editorial

Governor preaches 'personal responsibility.' But for whom?

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds holds a news conference on COVID-19 at the State Emergency Operations Center in Johnston, Iowa, o
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds holds a news conference on COVID-19 at the State Emergency Operations Center in Johnston, Iowa, on Tuesday, May 5, 2020.

Another day, another devastating new uptick in Iowa’s COVID-19 figures.

Several times in the past few weeks, Gov. Kim Reynolds has announced a new daily high in Iowa’s positive COVID-19 tests or deaths. On Tuesday, yet another striking record — 19 deaths in a 24-hour period, or nearly 10 percent of the state’s total COVID-19 deaths to date.

For a governor who says she is staking her pandemic response on data and metrics, those grim numbers don’t seem to weigh heavily on Reynolds’ decision-making.

“The fact is we can’t prevent people from getting the COVID-19 virus,” Reynolds said at her Tuesday news conference. “If we weren’t testing in these areas, people would still have the virus and without being tested, diagnosed and isolated it could spread even further.”

In one breath, Reynolds tells Iowans we are helpless to stop the virus’s spread. In the very next breath, she explains how testing and isolation can help prevent the spread.

It’s just one example of the confusing guidance Iowans are getting from the governor and her team. Iowans looking for answers about how to protect themselves and their families are finding seemingly conflicting answers.

They report we have reached the peak, only to backtrack. They say we’re in this together and there’s a statewide plan to confront the outbreak, but then they tell us it’s really about “personal responsibility.” They tell us to stay home as much as possible, then pivot to emphasizing the need for people who feel sick to stay home.

Sometimes, it almost feels as if Reynolds is blaming Iowans for getting sick.

Early on, Reynolds used a regional strategy to track the virus, based on factors such as hospitalizations and health care resources in six multicounty regions across the state. That approach has been brushed aside with little explanation to the public.

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Instead, Iowa now has “open” and “closed” counties — 22 where significant restrictions remain intact, and 77 where businesses can open in a limited manner. After less than a week under the county-by-county strategy, there are early signs that the 77 counties are seeing an uptick in confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Gov. Reynolds is disrupting her own virus response plan

Reynolds’ response in this phase of the pandemic is just as crucial as the initial phase, to prevent a deadlier wave. Shifting to the personal responsibility path also decentralizes leadership, which creates more uncertainty.

If Iowa’s “open” counties see a surge, will Reynolds relent and reimpose restrictions?

We have reason to doubt it. Just this week, Reynolds co-authored a Washington Post guest column with other governors, arguing “our approach worked.”

In Reynolds’ mind, she has already defeated the virus, so she’s retreating from the fight. That’s bad news for Iowans who are still very much on the front lines of this pandemic.

(319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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