Citizens group petitions Reynolds to require masks in public

Gov. Kim Reynolds wears a face mask while meeting with Iowa National Guard members staffing a COVID test site in Waukee on June 17, 2020. (Photo by Kathie Obradovich/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

There’s no hiding it — masks are the COVID-19 story of the week, in Iowa and around the nation.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement has started a #MaskUpIA petition drive asking Gov. Kim Reynolds to require Iowans to wear masks or other face coverings in public. More than 1,500 people have signed the petition since it was posted at midday Tuesday.

CCI previously pushed for a state order requiring people to stay at home. Reynolds declined to issue such an order. However, the governor closed schools and many businesses and attractions in the early weeks of the pandemic before reopening them in stages. 

The citizens group responded in a letter to supporters that Reynolds’ plan is “a national embarrassment, and it has failed us all. Public health experts agree: statewide policies that require face coverings are the best chance we have at mitigating the spread of COVID-19. Until we have a vaccine, we need to #MaskUpIA.”      

Cat Rocketship, CCI’s digital organizer, said in an interview that people are “scared” when they visit the grocery store and only half the people are wearing masks. “People are concerned in the neighborhoods,” Rocketship said. “They don’t see mask-wearing happening.”

“We need to put pressure on the governor to have some kind of policy on masks. This is really the only thing we can do short of a stay at home order,” which Reynolds rejected, Rocketship added.

Reynolds’ spokesman, Pat Garrett, did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the mask issue. 

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks at a news conference on March 13, 2020. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The Iowa debate comes as leading Republicans nationally — former Vice President Dick Cheney, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — this week said there should be no stigma to wearing a mask, the Washington Post reported. In fact, the act is necessary to allow the economy to recover, they said. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at one point during the pandemic said masks should be saved for medical personnel and might not help average Americans that much in their daily rounds. Now, however, the agency says everyone should wear a mask for face covering in public to not only protect others but at least partially protect the wearer from the highly contagious virus, CNN reported

And Goldman Sachs released an analysis contending mask-wearing makes both medical and economic sense, CNN reported. The Wall Street bank said the face coverings could help the country avoid another shutdown that would lower the nation’s gross domestic product by 5%, and would cut the daily rise in COVID-19 cases from one percentage point to 0.6%. 

Vaccines are in development, and there has been some work on drugs that would reduce symptoms. Without a vaccine in play yet, CDC and state health officials have focused on keeping people away from each other and on urging people to wash their hands frequently and wear masks or other face coverings.

Reynolds has repeatedly asked Iowans to wash their hands, practice social distancing and stay home if they don’t feel well.

The Republican governor generally doesn’t wear a mask when speaking in public but she has worn one during public appearances when in close contact with others. She engaged in what she called a “modified quarantine” after she visited the Oval Office just before a couple of White House aides tested positive.

But she defended the decision of the state education department to not recommend schools require face masks, leaving that decision to local school officials. And Iowa is one of the states with the fewest COVID-related restrictions in the country

Iowa, with a positive case rate of 9.5% — and 6.4% on Tuesday — has recorded 29,290 COVID cases. The largest number of cases have been in Polk County, which includes the state capital of Des Moines, with 6,066. Woodbury County, which includes Sioux City, has had 3,172 cases, and Black Hawk County, including Waterloo, has had 2,111.

The highest rate based on population has been in Buena Vista County, home to the meatpacking town of Storm Lake, with the equivalent of 8,529 cases per 100,000 people.

CCI is working on plans to present the petition to Reynolds.