Reynolds: I ‘acted appropriately’ last spring in saying Iowa was in COVID-19 recovery

Gov. Kim Reynolds discusses Iowa's COVID-19 response at a news conference Feb. 17, 2021, at Iowa PBS. (Screen shot from Iowa PBS livestream)

At a press conference eight months ago, Gov. Kim Reynolds declared that Iowa was “well into the recovery phase” of the coronavirus pandemic.

Reynolds appeared to be holding back tears on June 18, 2020, as she thanked Iowans “for being with me, for the notes, and the prayers that you’ve sent my way throughout this really difficult time.”

At the time, Iowa’s death toll from the virus was 678, and the state was averaging just over 300 new infections per day.

Today, the death toll stands at 5,263 and the rate of infection is more than double what it was that day in June.

Asked Wednesday whether she thinks it was mistake to have said last spring that Iowa was well into the recovery stage of the pandemic, the governor said she had acted appropriately.

“I think our numbers looked better at that time,” she said. “This has been an unprecedented pandemic, and Iowa is not unique. We saw a very similar situation happen across the country in November and December.”

Reynolds suggested loosening restrictions last summer helped with Iowans’ “attitude.”

“You know, I think we were able to take advantage of a downturn in the numbers. We saw the hospitalizations go down, we saw the positivity rate go down. We were able to open things up and we played ball that summer which helped with the overall attitude — to deal with COVID-19. And as we approached the winter months, people start going inside, we saw our numbers escalate, we saw a brief surge like many of the other states did. And we acted appropriately. So, again, you know, we learn every day, we gather new information and we make decisions accordingly.”

Last May, with Iowa reporting one of the nation’s has one of the nation’s fastest-growing rates of infection, Reynolds reopened many businesses in more than three-fourths of the state. In June, she reopened, with restrictions, all youth sporting events.

By September, Iowa was in the “red zone” for the spread of the virus and was continuing to relax mitigation measures in defiance of guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

On Sept. 13, the task force called on Iowa to “establish a statewide mask mandate,” warning that “COVID-19 is being brought into nursing homes through community transmission.” Reynolds resisted calls for a statewide mask mandate, saying she trusted Iowans to act responsibly and wear masks when appropriate.

In early November, six weeks after the task force issued that warning, Iowa saw a sharp, unprecedented surge in the spread of COVID-19. The states was averaging 2,123 new cases per day, double the average reached in October.

Earlier this week, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky questioned Reynolds’ more recent decision to lift nearly all restrictions on businesses, gatherings and masks. Reynolds’ Feb. 5 proclamation stated, “I strongly encourage that all businesses or other employers remain open with in-person operations (and) take reasonable measures under the circumstances of each establishment to ensure the health of employees, patrons and members of the public.”

In an interview Sunday with “Face the Nation,” Walensky sad, “We are nowhere out of the woods, and as you know, if we relax these mitigation strategies with the increasing transmissible variant out there, we could be in a much more difficult spot … What I would say is now is the time to not let up our guard. Now is the time to double down.”

“Indeed,” Walensky replied. “I think we’re not out of the woods yet. We need to get our kids back to school. We need to get our communities back to some normal functioning before we can start thinking about letting up our mitigation strategies.”
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.