White House: Iowa needs a mask mandate to prevent ‘unnecessary’ deaths

A Des Moines councilman suggested the city consider fining residents who don't wear masks in public. (Photo courtesy of the State of Utah)

The White House has renewed its call for Iowa to impose a statewide mandate for masks in order to reduce the transmission of the coronavirus and prevent unnecessary deaths.

The White House Coronavirus Task Force report on Iowa for Sept. 20 restates concerns expressed in a Sept. 13 report from the task force. It says that Iowa continues to be in the “red zone for cases, indicating 101 or more new cases per 100,000 population last week.” That’s the seventh-highest rate in the country, the task force notes.

Also, Iowa is in the “yellow zone” for test positivity, indicating a rate between 5% and 7.9%, which is the  12th-highest rate in the country.

According to the task force report, the three Iowa counties with the highest number of new cases over the last three weeks are Polk County, Johnson County and Story County. Together, they represent 30% of new cases in Iowa.

Currently, 68% of all counties in Iowa have moderate or high levels of community transmission, with 23% of them having high levels of community transmission.

Among the recommendations from the task force: “Ensuring mask utilization statewide will prevent unnecessary transmission and deaths in vulnerable communities.” The recommendation was more explicitly stated on Sept. 13: “Establish a statewide mask mandate. COVID-19 is being brought into nursing homes through community transmission.”

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has resisted calls for a statewide mask mandate, saying she trusts Iowans to act responsibly and wear masks when it’s appropriate.

The new task force report also recommends that Iowa “dramatically increase testing at universities to quickly find and quarantine on-campus cases and prevent spread in surrounding community. Use positive incentives to encourage testing among students.”

The report goes on to say that “major universities are transparently tracking COVID cases, such as the University of Arizona. Ensure this is happening at universities in Iowa.”

Clark Kauffman
Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.