Staff Editorial

Iowa schools forced to rely on Gov. Reynolds' unreliable COVID-19 numbers

Reynolds seems to be wishing the virus away

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds responds to questions during a press conference at the Iowa National Guard Armory in Cedar Rapids
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds responds to questions during a press conference at the Iowa National Guard Armory in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Aug. 17, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

Yet again, the coronavirus response team that’s supposedly committed to “data and metrics” has shown us they have no aptitude for either.

For five months now, Gov. Kim Reynolds has been assuring Iowans that her strategy to suppress COVID-19 transmissions is based on the numbers. Repeatedly, however, the governor and her staff have bungled the figures and created uncertainty.

Meet the rogue analyst fact-checking Iowa’s pandemic math

What’s Iowa’s real COVID-19 infection rate?

In the latest example, hundreds or thousands of positive COVID-19 diagnoses apparently have been backdated in the state’s reporting, thereby diminishing the true scope of the disease’s recent spread in Iowa. The data glitch was uncovered by Dana Jones, an Iowa City nurse practitioner, and first reported by the Associated Press’ Iowa reporter, Ryan Foley.

A leading infectious disease expert in Iowa called it “one of the worst data errors that could be happening right now,” according to the AP.

Accurate public health data is always vital, but it’s especially important now because Reynolds has put those figures at the center of the state’s campaign to reopen public schools, which is happening right now.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Reynolds last month ordered schools to hold at least 50 percent of their classes in person to start the fall semester.

As a hollow gesture to local control, the governor’s office set up a waiver process for school districts to request all-online instruction, but only if the county’s COVID-19 positivity rate exceeds 15 percent.

The governor’s critics said that was a dangerous and implausibly high bar to meet. Worse yet, we now know that infection rates are being obscured by inaccurate recording by the state. The all-important positivity rate schools are forced to rely on is simply not reliable.

Whether these mishaps are signs of negligent data management or willful deception, the result is the same — Iowans are confused, frustrated and afraid for their lives.

Like her Republican colleagues in other states and in the Trump administration, Reynolds seems to be wishing the virus away: If we refuse to acknowledge the severity of the situation, then people will forget about it and business will carry on as normal.

It’s a fatally flawed plan, though, because there can be no real economic recovery or resumption of normal life until this pandemic is smothered. Other countries are well on their way, but not us.

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

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.