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Iowa Views: Inexplicable and irresponsible: Iowa governor lifts mask mandate while 180,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine are unused

Iowa Views: Inexplicable and irresponsible: Iowa governor lifts mask mandate while 180,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine are unused

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The following editorial was published by the Des Moines Register on Feb. 7:

Gov. Kim Reynolds waited until thousands of Iowans had died to impose a state mask mandate in November. It was late and filled with exemptions, but at least it sent a message: Masks are important to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The message she sent by lifting the mandate on Super Bowl Sunday: Masks aren’t all that important.

The inexplicable and irresponsible move flies in the face of advice from every credible public health expert in the country. Masks work to reduce virus transmission and save lives. Some experts are recommending people wear two masks as more contagious virus variants circulate.

Why would Reynolds lift the requirement and other mitigation measures now?

That’s hard to understand.

Did she not realize that lifting the order would prompt national criticism, which she quickly received?

Was she trying to get on the same super-spreading page as GOP lawmakers who refuse to require masks at the Iowa Capitol?

Does she not understand that her mandate, weak though it was, likely encouraged more mask wearing, which may be what’s helping reduce the number of new coronavirus cases and curb hospitalizations? In other words, let’s give Reynolds credit for finally initiating the mask mandate. But that progress could be stymied now.

Does she not recognize the likelihood of new conflicts in businesses, schools and other places that retain their mask requirements when people challenge the rules because “the governor says we don’t need masks”? Or the certainty that employees with no choice but to go to work will face a higher risk of getting sick when mask use decreases?

We have to speculate about her thinking because Reynolds didn’t mention a shift in mitigation strategy at her news conference less than 30 hours before announcing her intent to lift the order.

Instead, Reynolds filibustered away more than three-quarters of the 32-minute briefing with remarks on Iowa’s economic recovery (as though the virus’s economic harm were in the rear-view mirror) and shoulder shrugs about the unavailability of vaccines.

On Friday, the same day Reynolds said she was lifting her limited mask mandate and other mitigation measures, the Iowa Department of Public Health recorded another 34 COVID-19 deaths. More than 5,100 Iowans have died so far.

Masks are one of the things that help prevent deaths. So are vaccines. How is Iowa doing on getting shots into the arms of Iowans?

Not well.

During the news conference, Reynolds blamed the federal government for not allocating enough doses of vaccine to Iowa. Yet we’re lagging in using many of the doses we have received.

As of data reported by midday Sunday, Iowa had administered 64% of the doses delivered to us. Minnesota had administered 77% of its doses; South Dakota, 82%. Illinois and Wisconsin also had all administered a higher percentage than Iowa.

This state has received about 510,000 doses but administered about 328,000. That means there are about 182,000 doses of vaccine, a number that has grown day after day, sitting in freezers or refrigerators (and hopefully being properly stored).

What is the governor’s plan for increasing the pace of vaccination?

She has neither publicly asked the federal government to bring in the Federal Emergency Management Agency to deliver shots nor announced efforts to organize needed mass vaccination sites.

Instead, she is seeking a private contractor to create a centralized system to help Iowans schedule appointments for shots. Where was this idea six months ago and how would that help at this stage?

Counties, pharmacies and health providers created their own scheduling systems weeks ago. Is a contractor going to “take over” the operations of private entities, including Hy-Vees, Medicaps and UnityPoint offices?

Reynolds is urging Iowans to be patient, which is fair.

But patience requires confidence the governor has a plan for vaccinations and is trying to keep people safe and alive until we all can get shots. It’s increasingly difficult to have that confidence.

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