In televised remarks this week, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced stronger mask and public gathering restrictions meant to impede the spread of COVID-19 throughout the state.
Speaking directly to Iowans through a prime-time broadcast, perhaps the first such address by any Iowa governor, makes an important statement — that the coronavirus pandemic is real and it is threatening the lives of Iowans.
“I’m afraid that these mild cases have created a mind-set where Iowans have become complacent. Where we’ve lost sight of why it was so important to flatten the curve,” Reynolds said Tuesday in remarks aired by Iowa PBS.
It marks a subtle yet welcome shift from Reynolds’ usual public statements about the virus. While we applaud the governor’s new tenor, we have to say the latest round of requirements comes up lacking.
Reynolds expanded her initial mask order from last week to include more activities and situations, yet broad exceptions will diminish its effect.
States have different fine print on their mask mandates, but Reynolds’ new order is unique in requiring masks only for interactions of 15 minutes or longer. The regulation does not appear to be backed by scientific evidence. It opens a big loophole for anyone looking to find one.
The White House coronavirus task force recommends Iowa adopt a mask requirement for “all public settings.” In the latest report, all 99 counties were rated in the red zone, noting “exponential and unyielding” spread of the coronavirus.
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The laundry list of exceptions only provides fuel to the naysayers ready to pounce on any piece of the order that is subject to interpretation. Reynolds’ mask requirement would be much improved by nixing the 15-minute rule. This editorial board still would favor even stronger and simpler restrictions to curb viral transmission, but a real mask mandate would be a great place to start.
It’s true, as Reynolds often says, police can’t enforce full compliance of a mask mandate. But the same is true of all laws and regulations put in place to protect people, and it doesn’t stop the government from trying. Reynolds is right to offer Iowans a sober take on enforcement challenges, but she undercuts her own message when she repeatedly falls back on those talking points.
The governor has a pen for signing orders and a phone for directing her public safety staff, both crucial tools in fighting the pandemic. But she also has a bully pulpit she could employ to greater effect.
Instead of reminding Iowans that we don’t have enough cops to enforce a mask mandate, Reynolds should just tell Iowans to wear the damn masks.
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