Good news, Iowans: the pandemic is over.
Well, at least in Gov. Kim Reynolds’ mind it is. In reality, thousands of Iowans are still testing positive for the virus every day, hundreds die weekly, and the vaccine rollout here is a total mess.
But for those wishing to ignore reality (and the health and safety of their fellow Iowan), Reynolds announced late Friday her decision to lift most of the few health measures Iowa did have. As of this Sunday, Iowans will no longer have mask requirements in public spaces, the limitations on public gatherings are gone, and social distancing rules for restaurants and bars are no more.
That last part for bars and restaurants comes at a particularly dangerous time — lifting it the morning of the Super Bowl, one where a Midwest team supported by many Iowans is playing. That raises the risk of packed bars across Iowa this Sunday turning into mini-super spreader events.
This comes at a time where Iowa continues to struggle mightily with the virus’ transmission, though the infection rates are down from the peak in November. Iowa sits near the bottom of the country in vaccination per capita administered (47th) and testing (48th) per capita. It remains 8th in the country for total COVID-19 per capita cases. The state passed 5,000 deaths this week, with the highest one-day new total of 250 coming the last day of January.
Meanwhile, Iowans are desperately crowdsourcing vaccine information online in order to find a place in the state where they can actually obtain one. And the U.K. version of the virus, which can spread more rapidly, is now present in Iowa.
For Reynolds, however, none of that seems to matter. She and many Iowans want the pandemic to be over, so to them, it’s over.
One could see this as waving the white flag in the fight to save Iowa lives, but it was never a war that Reynolds even attempted to fight. The surrender on what effort there was came in late April of 2020, when Reynolds and health officials said that Iowans would simply have to learn how to live with the virus.
The first major crisis of the meat packing plant outbreaks was met with shrugged indifference from Reynolds and, after that, it was clear how her administration would respond to the pandemic.
But that won’t keep Reynolds from declaring her handling of COVID-19 a sweeping victory. She was already doing that on the campaign trail for Republicans last year.
“We’ve been able to keep 85% of our workforce working and businesses open,” Reynolds bragged before a rally with Vice President Mike Pence in October. “We are getting our children back in the building, back in school. Seventy-five percent of our schools are open five days a week. And it is why our fiscal health is strong. We closed fiscal year ’20 with a balanced budget.”
And in some ways, Reynolds is simply carrying out the wishes of her most conservative base of voters in Iowa — those who are caught in the Fox News bubble, think COVID-19 is a hoax and all part of liberals’ grand plan to control them… by wearing masks, or something. That and her donors are the only constituency she cares about, and she is more than happy to entertain their fantasy world regardless the cost.
But the truth remains — Iowans continue to die at horrifying numbers from an avoidable disease that never needed to spread this much in the state.
Would many Iowans have become infected and too many die even with the best government response? Certainly. Reynolds, however, just hasn’t even bothered trying to slow the spread in real and meaningful ways. She’s vacillated between punting decisions down to the local level to protect Iowa’s most vulnerable and restricting locals’ decisions when they tried to take too cautious an approach to things like school reopenings.
And we’re still certain to see political TV ads and speeches from Reynolds over the next two years trumpeting her handling of the pandemic. Perhaps when you don’t even try in the first place, anything can be considered a victory.
by Pat Rynard
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