It’s hard to know which part of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’ response to the pandemic in the past week has been most troubling.
First, Iowans learned that not only is Iowa lagging well behind most states in COVID-19 vaccine supply, but the state has done a pretty poor job of administering the doses it does have.
As of Monday, 510,550 vaccine doses have been delivered to Iowa (47th in the nation), and 345,350 of those vaccines actually have been administered. So less than 68% of Iowa’s supply has been given to Iowans — a worse percentage than Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nebraska or South Dakota and ranking 46th nationally most recently.
Also as of Monday, Iowa had distributed at least one dose to 7,529 people per 100,000, a rate of 7.5% of the population. That was the very lowest rate among states.
Meanwhile, as some COVID-19 statistics are showing improvement, particularly the spread in long-term-care centers, the virus cloud still hangs low and heavy.
During a one-week period from Jan. 30 to Feb. 6, 19 COVID-19-related deaths in Dubuque County were reported by the state.
Nineteen people. This is not over. Not even close.
And yet, Gov. Reynolds thought this would be a good time to lift the state’s not-particularly-stringent mask mandate.
Now, when the vaccine is here, when the biggest jobs at hand would seem to be 1) Getting Iowa its fair share of vaccine and 2) Getting the vaccine in Iowa into the bloodstreams of Iowans, Reynolds decides this would be a good time to lift the restrictions she had in place.
Coincidentally — or maybe not — they were lifted on Super Bowl Sunday.
Was the mask mandate hurting business? Was it such a terrible inconvenience that Iowans couldn’t last a few more weeks until more people, particularly the most vulnerable, are vaccinated? Are we looking for another road to herd immunity — the one where everybody eventually gets COVID-19 and only the strong survive? I’m sure the families and loved ones of the latest 19 Dubuque County residents who died would have something to say about that approach.
Reynolds is fond of saying that she trusts Iowans to do the right thing. Then, she was photographed signing the legislation ordering 100% in-person learning be an option in all school districts. In the photo, two young children stand on either side of her. In one shot, she high-fives one of the boys. Everybody in the picture is wearing a mask except one person — the governor.
That example is the tone this governor sets that has led to dozens of lawmakers not wearing masks in the Statehouse. Guess what that has led to? COVID-19. Rep. Lindsay James said last week that on five occasions she had direct exposure at the Capitol to someone who had contracted the virus in the three weeks she’s been there. Five cases and counting. Four last week alone. Seven colleagues in quarantine.
Is wearing a mask really that much to ask?
And who did the governor consult with before making the decision to lift the mask mandate? Unclear.
Here’s who it wasn’t: the Iowa Department of Public Health — the very agency tasked with trying to keep Iowans safe and informed about the virus. Interim Director Kelly Garcia told lawmakers, including James, that her department had not been consulted.
Iowa needs a strong governor to be vocal about the state getting its share of vaccine. Iowa needs a governor who can oversee a plan of action to speed up distribution. Iowa needs a governor that consults with the experts around her in making decisions — particularly those that impact Iowans’ health and well-being.
Reynolds continues to let Iowans down when she is needed the most.