Opinion

Capitol Ideas column: Governor's faith in Iowans wasn't rewarded at rally

Most at Trump's event in Des Moines didn't social distance or wear masks

President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a campaign rally Oct. 14 at Des Moines International Airport. (AP Photo/Alex
President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a campaign rally Oct. 14 at Des Moines International Airport. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

DES MOINES — It’s one thing to express a hopeful view when attempting to lead a state through a pandemic.

It’s another thing to make a statement that plainly defies the evidence literally right in front of you.

The least plausible line delivered during President Donald Trump’s rally last week at the Des Moines International Airport may have come from Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds. She was addressing the crowd at the airport during the event’s warm-up speeches before Trump arrived when she said she was proud to be the type of governor who trusts her constituents to be responsible and do the right thing.

This comment was directed to a crowd of thousands who were packed close together — not socially distanced and most not wearing face coverings. Those actions are contrary to the advice of state and federal public health and infectious disease experts, and they happened in a state where COVID-related hospitalizations are at their highest point yet of the pandemic.

“I am proud to be a governor that puts trust in her people because they are responsible, they are resilient, and they will do the right thing,” Reynolds yelled into the sea of closely gathered, mostly maskless faces.

The event ran afoul of Reynolds’ own state proclamation that public gatherings must include social distancing.

The one thing that mitigated the potential public health danger was that the event was held outside, where the virus does not spread as easily.

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It is understandable that part of a governor’s job is to be the state’s cheerleader, and to that end Reynolds may have opted for a more positive, encouraging tone on face mask use during the pandemic. She may believe encouraging people to wear masks in public is more effective than scolding or punishing people who do not. And she may believe it is more effective to suggest most Iowans are wearing face masks in public, even if that’s debatable.

However, it was a serious stretch when Reynolds stood on that stage, looked at that crowd, and suggested Iowans “will do the right thing” when hundreds, standing directly in front of her, were not.

This past week, COVID-19-related hospitalizations set record after record in Iowa, with 468 Iowans hospitalized as of Friday afternoon. Recent COVID-19 hospital admissions also continued to soar, averaging nearly 70 over the most recent 10 days.

COVID-19-related deaths also continue to climb in Iowa: the 14-day average of new deaths reported daily was at its highest since early June, when death numbers were coming down from their first peak.

According to public health and infectious disease experts, one of the best ways to help slow the spread of the virus is to wear face masks when near other people in public.

That, in terms of public health, is doing the right thing.

Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government. His column appears Monday in The Gazette. His email address is erin.murphy@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.

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