This week, more than eight months after Iowa’s first COVID-19 case was diagnosed, Gov. Kim Reynolds issued her first-ever statewide mask mandate.
Iowa’s new mask requirement is much weaker than in other states. The order applies only to public gatherings of more than 25 people indoors or 100 people outdoors, falling short of national guidelines.
Iowa remains one of only two states in the nation with no statewide mask mandate and where the governor refuses to honor local mandates. Throughout the pandemic, both Republican and Democratic governors across the nation have been willing to issue much stronger rules to protect citizens from the spread of the virus.
Reynolds has incentivized, although not required, school districts to adopt mask policies for students and staff. She and the Democratic attorney general continue to insist locally imposed mask mandates are not legal.
The watered-down mask order comes as Iowa’s daily pandemic figures peak to frightening heights — four-figure new case counts, double-digit deaths and test positivity rates as high as 50 percent.
Notably, the Trump campaign rally Reynolds attended before the election would not have been permitted under new rules, issued just a week after Election Day. As Iowa Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen put it, Reynolds’ new restrictions are “like buying a smoke detector after your house is blazing out of control.”
Our house is on fire, and a limited mask order is unlikely to extinguish the flames.
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Reynolds has resisted stronger pandemic restrictions and frequently acknowledged the difficulties in enforcing measures aimed at individual behavior. Like Reynolds, we don’t want our law enforcement officers to become mask police.
However, it’s clear by now that a government mask mandate can alter behavior without the need for mass citations. In Iowa communities with embattled local mask mandates, authorities are issuing few or no tickets, yet we can readily observe that mask usage increases under a mandate.
Reynolds can issue a statewide mask mandate like her colleagues in dozens of other states have done, and she doesn’t need to send out cops to write frivolous tickets. Instituting such a policy would send a strong message to Iowa that the pandemic is serious and we all must take precautions.
The governor has pleaded with and waited for Iowans to do the right thing on pandemic precautions. Too often, the strategy hasn’t worked. It’s well past time for Reynolds to issue a statewide mask mandate.
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