With infections and deaths surging, Reynolds says election ‘validates’ her COVID-19 response

Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks at her news conference Nov. 5, 2020, at the State Capitol. (Screen shot from event livestream)

As Iowa set another new record Thursday for COVID-19 hospitalizations, Gov. Kim Reynolds warned that “while hospital capacity is stable for now, it is not sustainable if positive cases continue to surge at this level.”

The governor said to address a potential shortage of hospital beds — one study suggests Iowa will run out of intensive care unit beds in just four weeks — she intends to “do my part” by rolling out a public-awareness campaign reminding Iowans that winter is coming and they should wear a face mask and social distance when it’s appropriate.

Speaking at a press conference in the Iowa Capitol, Reynolds also called the results of this week’s election, a “validation of our balanced response” to the pandemic.

“Iowans said in this election they want to get through this, they want to figure out a way to move on,” she  said. “They, you know, agree with how we’ve handled COVID-19. I believe that’s what the election said.”

The governor was not up for re-election this year. Republicans expanded their majority in the Iowa House of Representatives and held on to the Iowa Senate majority.

The governor acknowledged that Iowa is seeing an unprecedented surge in infections, hospitalizations and deaths, setting new records on an almost daily basis.

During the first few months of the pandemic, Reynolds repeatedly said her approach to the virus would be “data driven” and would involve “dialing up” and “dialing back” mitigation efforts in quick response to the rate of infection. In recent weeks, however, as the number of hospitalized Iowans grew from 300 to more than 800, there was no corresponding “dialing up” of mitigation efforts.

Reynolds appeared to acknowledge that at Thursday’s press conference, stating that health care professionals know a lot more about the virus than they did when those steps were initially taken.

“Nine months ago, we knew very little about the virus when it first hit our state,” she said. “So at that time, we took targeted mitigation steps to protect those at highest risk for serious illness and to do everything we could to avid overwhelming our health care system. Those actions were necessary at the time to make sure we effectively managed our response to COVID-19, but they never were intended to be long-term solutions.”

Today, Reynolds said, “the situation is much different and we have more options available to us to keep the  state healthy,” including added capacity for testing and new treatments and therapies for those who are infected.

Reynolds said that earlier this week she approved the use of $25 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) funding for Iowa hospitals to “help address their staffing needs.” She said the money will be allocated to individual hospitals based on their average patient census in September and October.

Almost half of all Iowans do not wear a mask at all times when in public, according to a study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. The White House coronavirus task force has repeatedly recommended that Iowa require people to wear masks in public. Reynolds, who has allowed bars and other business to reopen with some restrictions, has declined to require masks, saying she trusts Iowans to act responsibly and that a mandate would be unenforceable.

On Thursday, Reynolds reiterated her call for Iowans to wear a face mask in public and practice social distancing.

“I’m going to do my part to ensure that Iowa gets the message,” she said. “Next week, we are launching a public awareness campaign that will be rolling out in newspapers across the state and then on radio and on TV to remind Iowans to step up and stop the spread.”

Asked about the campaign’s chances of changing the public’s behavior, Reynolds said Iowans are “just experiencing pandemic fatigue and they are wearing down and wearing out and they want to get their lives back to normal.

“So I am going to double down, and I am asking them to double down, and I have been doing targeted radio ads, I have been speaking with media all over the state, and I have been talking to Iowans and we’re going to double down on that with an extensive media outreach in local newspapers that they read, in radio stations that they listen to every day, and in the local media that they watch — just reminding them that it’s not over and we’re moving into colder weather, which means more indoor gatherings.”

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.