Iowa governor lifts mask mandate without public health input

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds addresses Iowans during her weekly press conference on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021, in Johnston, Iowa, where she provided updates on the COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

OTTUMWA — The number of positive coronavirus cases spiked for a second day in Wapello County, according to new state data on Wednesday.

Data from the Iowa Department of Public Health reported 53 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Wapello County residents, the highest 24-hour change since late November.

On Tuesday, Wapello County had added 47 new cases.

In Appanoose County, there were 21 new cases reported, which was the county’s highest single-day change since early December.

The cases were included in the 1,035 COVID-19 cases added between Tuesday and Wednesday, according to the state public health department’s data. There were five new cases in Davis, three in Monroe and two in Van Buren.

The state reported another 29 deaths, with two of them in the Courier’s coverage area. One death was in Appanoose County and the other was in Monroe County — both between the ages fo 70 and 79 with pre-existing conditions.

To date, there have been 5,174 Iowans killed by the coronavirus.

Iowa has made progress in vaccinations, with its two-dose vaccination rate ahead of 23 other states. Last week, Iowa was the third-worst state in the nation.

About 3% of Iowans have now received both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, and about 5.5% have received the first dose.

Hospitalizations are the lowest since late September, with 292 in Iowa’s hospitals and 67 in an intensive care unit.

Gov. Kim Reynolds on Wednesday defended her decision to remove mandates on mask-wearing and social distancing — which she did without consulting the Iowa Department of Public Health.

Reynolds was among the last governors in the country to implement a mask mandate. She did so in mid-November during a prime-time address to Iowans at a time when Iowa was averaging more than 4,300 new cases per day, hundreds were being admitted into hospitals each day, and intensive care unit capacity was being stretched thin.

Within a couple weeks of the mandate’s implementation, COVID-19 hospitalizations began to taper off, reducing to what are now five-month lows as of Wednesday. Meanwhile, daily new cases also fell sharply in the weeks following the mandate, and are now at their lowest levels in since September.

In defending her decision to relax measures, Reynolds claimed Iowans have worn masks all along and don’t need a government mandate to do so.

“Individuals can make that choice, and they’ve done so,” Reynolds said. “Prior to November, we didn’t have a mask mandate. … Iowans know what to do, we’ve been telling them for a year what they need to do. And they’re doing it.”

Reynolds said she is trying to be “reasonable and measured” to manage the pandemic in a responsible way while allowing Iowans to still have livelihoods.

“California has been locked down since March; their numbers are no different,” Reynolds said. “But we’ve been able to help a little bit with COVID fatigue by being reasonable and measured.”

Reynolds, responding to a question about whether removing the mask mandate sends the wrong signal to Iowans, said mental illness, substance abuse, suicide, child pornography, food insecurity and other things are on the rise or worsening.

“It’s a balance,” Reynolds said. “I’m not saying go out there and be carefree and not responsible; I’m saying I trust Iowans to do the right thing, and I know our businesses will do the right thing, too.”

Kyle Ocker is the editor of the Ottumwa Courier and the Oskaloosa Herald. He can be reached at kocker@ottumwacourier.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kyle_Ocker.

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Kyle Ocker is a Centerville native and award-winning multimedia journalist. Kyle is currently the president of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and vice president of the Iowa Print Sports Writers Association.

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