Mariannette Miller-Meeks kicked off the month of September with a new ad criticizing her Democratic opponent, who holds no elected office, for doing “nothing to protect us from the pandemic.”
Miller-Meeks, meanwhile, is a state senator, physician and former director of the Iowa Department of Public Health who suggested Iowans trust an unproven drug therapy to treat COVID-19 and voted to shield meatpacking plants and other businesses from potential lawsuits over endangering workers’ safety during the pandemic.
On Sept. 1, the day Miller-Meeks released the ad across the 2nd District, 180,000 people in the United States had died due to complications caused by the respiratory disease. Now the country has hit 200,000 deaths, the most of any other nation. The coronavirus is expected to be the third leading cause of death in the United States this year, behind cancer and heart disease.
Miller-Meeks’ ad tells voters that “liberal politicians did nothing to protect us from the pandemic. While they bickered, lives were lost, jobs destroyed,” the narrator says. “Washington Democrats played politics, so did Rita Hart. Democrats refused to hold China accountable, did nothing to stop viruses from Asia, just like Rita Hart.”
While liberal politicians played politics, lives were lost and jobs were destroyed.
— Dr. Miller-Meeks (@millermeeks) September 1, 2020
Again, Hart holds no elected office. She hasn’t been a member of the Iowa Legislature since 2018 and has never served in Congress, so it’s unclear what Miller-Meeks and her campaign believe she could have done to “hold China accountable” for the coronavirus pandemic and how she could “stop viruses from Asia.”
Miller-Meeks’ own actions throughout the year, however, follow a pattern of not taking the virus seriously and protecting those who endangered others with infection.
During the first month of the coronavirus in Iowa, Miller-Meeks spoke March 12 on the Senate floor about keeping the “seriousness” of coronavirus “in perspective” and compared it to the flu. In May, WHO-TV reported 96 flu-related deaths had occurred in Iowa since Nov. 2019 — the first month the Iowa Department of Public Health recorded deaths during last year’s flu season. Between March 24, 2020, (the first recorded coronavirus death in Iowa) and May 3 (the date the article was published) 184 Iowans had died due to COVID-19. Today, the death toll stands at 1,293.
In the early months of the pandemic, Miller-Meeks touted hydroxychloroquine on Twitter despite a large study showing the malaria drug had no discernible benefit for COVID-19 patients and may have worsened health outcomes.
In mid-May, Miller-Meeks suggested it was “appropriate to begin opening up” much of the Iowa economy, even as the uncontrolled spread of the coronavirus continued in the state.
When the Iowa Legislature reconvened in June to wrap up a session interrupted by the pandemic, Miller-Meeks joined her Republican colleagues in advancing legislation to prohibit Iowans from suing a company or health care facility unless they were hospitalized or died due to COVID-19, or if an individual could prove a company intended to cause them harm. The bill also protected companies from coronavirus-related civil damages unless they intentionally exposed an employee to the disease or “recklessly” disregarded government guidance on how to minimize exposure. Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the legislation — which also has been a priority of national Republicans — into law June 18.
Prior to the bill’s passage, an analysis found Iowa was No. 1 in the nation for its rate of meat industry-related infections.
Earlier this month, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration proposed a $13,494 fine for Smithfield Packaged Meats Corp. in Sioux Falls, South Dakota — the agency’s first COVID-19-related penalty in the meatpacking industry. According to a Sept. 10 article in Politico, OHSA said the company “failed to protect its employees from the coronavirus.” The article says nearly 1,300 Smithfield workers were sickened by COVID-19 and four employees died. In Iowa, hundreds of Tyson employees in Waterloo and Columbus Junction contracted the virus at work. Worker safety advocates decried the fine amount as far too small to change any behavior from the plants.
Despite Miller-Meeks’ votes and statements showing otherwise, her latest ad says she “took COVID seriously.”
In June, when called out on the Senate floor by Sen. Bill Dotzler for not wearing a mask, Miller-Meeks argued she did not need to wear a mask so long as she stayed six feet apart from her colleagues.
“Scientifically, COVID-19 … is not aerosolized, so that’s why you can have a physical separation of six feet,” Miller-Meeks said.
Airborne transmission of the coronavirus, however, has been noted throughout the pandemic as one of the primary ways the virus is spread.
“The scientific community has been raising the alarm about this since February, that airborne spread can happen,” Joseph Allen, a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told NBC News.
Miller-Meeks and Hart are vying for Southeast and Eastern Iowa’s open congressional seat, currently held by Democratic Congressman Dave Loebsack. Due in part to President Trump’s over-performance in the 2nd District in 2016, the race is considered a toss-up. A Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll published Sunday shows 50% of likely Iowa voters would support the Democratic Party’s candidate in the 2nd District compared to 46% for the Republican. The poll’s margin of error, however, is +/- 8.7 percentage points, making it difficult to know which candidate actually is leading.
By Elizabeth Meyer
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