Staff Editorial

What do all these 'metrics' and 'data' actually mean?

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds holds a news conference on COVID-19 at the State Emergency Operations Center in Johnston, Tuesday
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds holds a news conference on COVID-19 at the State Emergency Operations Center in Johnston, Tuesday, April 7, 2020.

During her news conferences, Gov. Reynolds has been asked almost daily about why Iowa is one of five states that hasn’t issued a shelter-at-home order. And every day, with increasing frustration, the governor replies that she is relying on metrics and data.

For weeks, the specifics of those metrics and data remained elusive, until last week when the Iowa City Press-Citizen published a leaked document that showed a 12-point scale that takes into account age, hospitalization, population and long-term care outbreaks to determine if and when a shelter-at-home order is necessary.

According to the scale, for a shelter-at-home order to be issued, one of the six regions in the state would need to score a 10. On Monday, a region in the southeast quadrant including Iowa City was at a 9 and at her news conference on Tuesday, Reynolds said that the region that includes Cedar Rapids is at 8.

But Reynolds has refused to explain clearly the reasoning and the science behind this scoring system, and who developed it in the first place. When asked, Pat Garrett, spokesperson for Reynolds, explained that the scale was developed with Caitlin Pedati, a doctor and medical director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, and a team epidemiologists who “have more than 100 years of combined experience.”

But Iowans still aren’t being told who is on that team, the reasoning behind the scoring. In fact, so often the answers of this administration raise more questions. For example, why did the governor repeatedly say that she was doing the equivalent of a shelter-at-home order, but it wasn’t until Monday that bowling allies were ordered to close?

It’s a confusing cycle for Iowans. Recently, the Iowa Board of Medicine sent a letter to Reynolds, which stated in part, “We have been made aware that the public may be confused about what it means to effectively practice social distancing, that Iowans are disregarding your recommendation to stay home and that supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) continue to dwindle,” the letter said. “ ... Not having a shelter-in-place order in place in Iowa needlessly increases Iowans’ exposure to COVID-19.”

As the cases of the virus in the state have yet to reach their peak, Iowans deserve more clarity and answers on the metrics and data that are supposed to be saving our lives.

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