State officials promise more frequent COVID-19 data updates as delta spreads

Reynolds declines to recommend masks for students

By: - September 2, 2021 2:05 pm

Gov. Kim Reynolds held a press conference on COVID-19 on Sept. 2, 2021. (Photo by Katie Akin / Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Iowa will be providing COVID-19 data updates more frequently as the delta variant of the virus continues to spread in the state.

Beginning Friday, the Iowa Department of Public Health will update its coronavirus dashboard three times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 

“We owe it to you to share and ensure that you have access to clear information,” Iowa Public Health Director Kelly Garcia said.

In early July, IDPH stopped issuing daily COVID-19 updates, moving the website to a weekly schedule. Garcia noted Thursday that Iowa was one of the last states in the region to slow down updates and that the federal government had been pushing data less frequently as the pandemic slowed.

IDPH director stops short of recommending masks at schools

Reporters at Thursday’s press conference asked Garcia whether she would recommend that students wear masks in school. 

Reynolds answered the question instead.

“It doesn’t really matter because it’s a law at this point,” Reynolds said, referring to a May law that prohibits school districts and local governments from requiring masks.

Reynolds emphasized earlier in the press conference that parents were best-positioned to choose if their children should wear masks to school. She spoke about children who struggled to learn while wearing face coverings. 

“There’s data on both sides that support masks and the negative effects of masks,” Reynolds said. “They’re going to have to take that information, just like vaccines, and make an informed decision as to what is best for their child.” 

Reynolds’ spokesperson Pat Garrett sent a Wall Street Journal opinion piece by a surgeon and a pediatrician who raised concerns that long-term mask use was uncomfortable and could affect the social development of students. He also cited a PBS interview with an epidemiologist who said cloth masks are less reliable than medical-grade masks in preventing COVID.

The latest report by the Centers for Disease Control found that multi-layer cloth masks block between 50 to 70% of droplets and particles, and they limit the reach of those particles that are not stopped. That same report showed masks had no adverse effect on breathing for children or adults.

The CDC recommends that students, teachers, and other school staff wear masks indoors. Several Iowa school districts have strongly encouraged face coverings, even though they cannot mandate them under state law.

Speaking to reporters after the press conference, Garcia said that she sends her own children to school wearing masks, but she did not issue a blanket recommendation that all students do so.

“I’m not going to disclose our own family’s reasons as to why, but we have some reasons as to why,” Garcia said. “I don’t want my kids to be sick, and I can’t afford for them to bring that home.”

What are the current COVID-19 numbers in Iowa?

COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Iowa. The daily average case number was 1,187 on Sept. 1, a 46% increase in cases over the last 14 days. Hospitalizations were up 30% in the same time period, according to New York Times data.

Reynolds said Thursday that nearly every case in Iowa — 99% — were caused by the more-contagious delta variant.

“Especially with vaccines widely available, the rise we’re currently experiencing isn’t cause for panic. Far from it,” Reynolds said. 

Will COVID-19 surge again in the fall?

Garcia said Iowa is better positioned to deal with delta, due to relatively high vaccination rates, than several other states experiencing more widespread outbreaks. Iowa also has more “natural immunity” due to reopening the state earlier in the pandemic, she said.

“Can I predict to all Iowans that we won’t see continued stress? No, I can’t at this moment,” Garcia said.

Garcia said vaccination is essential to ensure hospitals aren’t overwhelmed in the state.

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.