Biden Picks a Fight With Reynolds on COVID Safety Measures

Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

By Nikoel Hytrek

August 19, 2021

President Joe Biden and his administration are stepping in to correct inaction from Republican governors such as Iowa’s Kim Reynolds as the Delta variant spreads and presents a larger threat.

Wednesday, Biden directed US Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to find out whether the administration can remove bans on mask mandates for schools based on a civil rights rule requiring students to receive an education in a safe environment.

“We are not going to sit by as governors try to block and intimidate educators protecting our children,” Biden said during the East Room event.

Cardona sent letters to the governors of states where some kind of ban is in place for mask requirements, Reynolds included.

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In it, he pointed out this ban violates requirements included in the American Rescue Plan that schools have plans for safe in-person instruction and continued service and that they must address various CDC recommendations.

The “universal and correct wearing of masks” is one of those required topics.

In July, the CDC recommended everyone in schools wear masks indoors, even those who are vaccinated. And the CDC isn’t alone with that recommendation. The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommended everyone wear masks in school. Children’s hospitals, including Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines, have also said masks should be required.

In May this year, Reynolds signed a law that Iowa schools—public or private—can not require students and faculty to wear masks.

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The letter from Cardona said the ban infringes on a school district’s authority to establish policies that protect students and educators.

Return-to-learn plans in Iowa are scattershot, with some doing more than others to keep everyone in the building safe. In West Des Moines, the school district announced they would not require masks on school buses, which violates federal orders.

This declaration is just one example of Biden stepping in to control the surging pandemic.

Biden also said Wednesday that nursing homes across the country must require staff to be vaccinated, or lose Medicare and Medicaid funding. Last year, long-term care facilities in Iowa were frequently hit with outbreaks.

Though most residents at these facilities are now vaccinated, federal data show only 60 percent of staff are.

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For Florida, the letter from the US Department of Education said the federal government would pay the salaries for school boards and superintendents that implemented mask requirements.

Gov. Ron DeSantis threatened to pull state funding from schools that did so.

Earlier this month, Biden called out the governors who put these measures in place.

“If some governors aren’t willing to do the right thing to beat this pandemic then they should allow businesses, universities who want to do the right thing to be able to do it,” Biden said. “I say to these governors, please help. If you’re not going to help, at least get out of the way of the people who are trying to do the right thing.”

Reynolds responded to the letter Thursday, suggesting Biden has more important things to focus on, and that mitigation measures are a threat to liberty.

“The President’s priorities are misplaced. I have had enough, and I know Iowans have too,” she said. “I’ll continue to do whatever is necessary to defend and preserve the fundamental rights and liberties afforded to any American citizen.”


by Nikoel Hytrek


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  • Nikoel Hytrek

    Nikoel Hytrek is Iowa Starting Line’s longest-serving reporter. She covers LGBTQ issues, abortion rights and all topics of interest to Iowans. Her biggest goal is to help connect the dots between policy and people’s real lives. If you have story ideas or tips, send them over to [email protected].



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