Iowa governor finally signs mask mandate that won't do much to stop virus

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State Democratic leaders have slammed Kim Reynolds for the 'half measures.'

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds finally addressed spiking coronavirus cases in her state on Monday, issuing a partial mask mandate. But the fine print in her "public health proclamation" renders the order virtually meaningless.

"Our state, like so many across the nation, is seeing a significant increase in the spread of COVID-19 and right now the pandemic in Iowa is worse than it has ever been. Over the last two weeks, there have been more than 52,000 new cases of the virus in Iowa," the Republican governor said at a press conference, noting that was equal to the total cases from March to mid-August.

"Because of the increase we've seen over the last two weeks, our healthcare system is being pushed to the brink," she added, announcing measures "targeted toward activities and environments where they have the potential to make a significant impact in a relatively short amount of time."

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The measures do little to enforce social distancing or mask usage.

Along with "encouraging Iowans to consider how their choice to adhere to public health mitigation strategies impacts the spread of COVID-19 in their family and community," Reynolds ordered most Iowans to "wear a mask or other face covering" — but the requirement applies only when they are "inside an indoor space that is open to the public within six feet of individuals who are not members of their household for 15 minutes or longer."

This loophole would seemingly mean that anyone visiting a grocery store could go maskless as long as they did not get within six feet of other customers for more than 14 minutes. It also includes 11 exemptions, including for people working six feet from each other, people sitting in restaurants and bars, and people at religious gatherings.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends mask usage for all "public settings when around people who don’t live in your household, especially when it may be difficult for you to stay six feet apart." It makes no mention of any 15-minute exception.

Iowa Democratic leaders slammed Reynolds on Monday night for her "failed COVID strategy."

"The Governor’s half-measured attempt at a mask mandate will not be enough to make Iowans safer, especially heading into the holiday season," state Senate Democratic Leader Zach Wahls and House Democratic Leader Todd Prichard said in a joint press statement. "Her actions today are simply too little, too late. Half-measures will only prolong this pandemic and the suffering of Iowans."

The legislators argued that Reynolds should have instead followed the recommendations from the White House coronavirus task force, which include an "effective mask mandate," increased testing, contact tracing, and physical distancing.

For months, Reynolds stubbornly refused to mandate face masks, even as Iowa saw one of the worst COVID-19 spikes of any state in the country.

"No, I'm not going to mandate masks. I trust Iowans. I believe in Iowans," she said in July. "There's no way to enforce it. Most of the states or entities that have done that, they've actually gone as far as to say we're not going to enforce it, so it's just kind of a feel-good."

In September, she reiterated, "I think the goal is to do what we can to reduce the spread of the virus. I believe that is the end goal and that we can get there without a mask mandate. I believe that and that’s what I’m going to consistently do."

Iowa has seen more than 190,000 coronavirus cases to date. More than 2,000 of those have resulted in death.

According to the Washington Post, Iowa currently ranks fourth in the nation for the most new cases in the past week, with 822 new cases per 100,000 residents.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.