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Murphy column: Governor’s COVID PSA a good effort, but critics say it's late

Murphy column: Governor’s COVID PSA a good effort, but critics say it's late

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University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics CEO Suresh Gunasekaran speaks in an ad that’s part of Iowa’s COVID-19 awareness campaign.

As public information campaigns go, Gov. Kim Reynolds’ PSA encouraging all Iowans to do their part in slowing the spread of COVID-19 is a solid entry.

However, the governor has drawn criticism that it’s too late and would have been useful weeks or even months earlier, before COVID-19 cases began their recent spike to previously unseen levels in Iowa.

Reynolds recently announced the public information campaign, which will include public service announcements to be broadcast on Iowa television and radio stations, and published in newspapers across the state. Reynolds did the smart thing by partnering with the Iowa Broadcasters Association and the Iowa Newspaper Association, which will help ensure the message reaches to all corners of the state.

During a news conference this week, Reynolds unveiled one of the TV ads that is a part of the campaign. The ad hits the right notes: it reminds Iowans to take the simple steps of wearing face masks, social distancing, washing hands, and staying home while sick, and it reminds Iowans the health of everybody is at stake.

The ad (youtu.be/U7umw8kY8jY) also uses a smart mix of spokespeople to deliver that message. It features current and former state leaders of varied political stripes. They include Reynolds, a Republican, and former Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Democrat. It features medical workers from the CEO level (University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics CEO Suresh Gunasekaran) and the front lines (Test Iowa nurse Katie Witt). It features an Iowa sports legend, former college wrestling coach Dan Gable. And it features a well-known every-man, Carson King, who used his sudden social media fame to donate $3 million to the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital.

“COVID-19 isn’t stronger than Iowans’ resolve to overcome it,” Reynolds says in the ad. “Let’s step up and stop the spread together.”

Perhaps the video will resonate with Iowans, especially those who may have been treating COVID-19 with a more cavalier attitude. Hopefully it has an impact in slowing the virus’ furious spread through the state.

Perhaps, as critics say, it would have been effective earlier this year, before the virus began spreading at an exponential and deadly rate. Maybe it would have helped lessen that sudden explosion.

What if this campaign would have been put together in April or May? Maybe it would have resonated with Iowans then, causing more people to be more considerate about their everyday behaviors and how they impact the virus’ spread. And maybe the sudden surge we’re seeing would not be so severe.

It has been severe. In Iowa over the past month, the 14-day average number of new cases has quadrupled, the number of daily hospitalizations has tripled, and the 14-day average of new deaths has doubled.

The virus is spreading in Iowa at a rate not seen before during the eight-month pandemic.

Some are still learning

Something that was said during a news conference this week by Dr. Caitlin Pedati, the state epidemiologist, bears repeating and highlighting.

“We want to just make sure that people understand it’s still important to keep yourself away from others if you have COVID, and to keep yourself away from others if you’ve had a COVID exposure. Because that really does help limit that spread,” Pedati said.

As reported out of that news conference, at the eight-month mark of a global pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than 2,100 Iowans and more than 250,000 Americans, Pedati apparently felt compelled to remind people who are infected with this virus that they need to distance themselves from others.

That people still need this reminder right now is not a good look, and perhaps helps explain the recent explosion in COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

— Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government for Lee Enterprises. His email address is erin.murphy@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.

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