Reynolds dropped Iowa mask mandate sans public health input, Dems say


Nick Coltrain
 
| Des Moines Register

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Gov. Kim Reynolds did not consult with Iowa Department of Public Health officials on her decision to drop mask rules from her latest COVID-19 disaster proclamation, two Democratic lawmakers say.

Asked about the claim, neither public health or the governor’s spokespeople denied it.

“The governor has been consistent since the beginning of the pandemic and is following through with her commitment to dial back restrictions based on a significant decrease in COVID hospitalizations,” Reynolds spokesperson Pat Garrett said in a statement.

The decision runs counter to general advice from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In response to a question about Reynolds’ decision, the new CDC director of urged states not to ease up their public health measures.

More: Iowa reports another 2 COVID-19 deaths, 261 confirmed coronavirus cases

“We really need to keep all of the mitigation measures at play here if we’re really going to get control of this pandemic,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch

Meanwhile, Sen. Claire Celsi, D-West Des Moines, and Rep. Lindsay James, D-Dubuque, both tweeted Monday morning that Iowa Department of Public Health Director Kelly Garcia told them Reynolds, a Republican, did not ask the department’s opinion on the matter before issuing her new proclamation Friday.

The new proclamation dropped a requirement that Iowans wear face coverings if indoors and unable to socially distance for more than 15 minutes and dropped limits on social gatherings.

James said in an interview that Garcia referred lawmakers to the governor’s office for follow up questions. Garcia made the comment during a regularly scheduled call with Democratic lawmakers about the state’s response to the pandemic.

More: Gov. Kim Reynolds lifting Iowa’s mask requirements, gathering limits Sunday

Iowa Department of Public Health spokesperson Sarah Ekstrand did not deny the lawmakers’ recounting, but said in an email “IDPH advises the governor daily on the state’s COVID-19 response.”

The number of Iowans hospitalized with COVID-19 has dropped since the brutal wave of the sickness swept across Iowa in November, from a high of more than 1,500 people to 318 people as of Monday morning.

The number of Iowans testing positive for the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, has also declined from more than 60,000 positive tests over two weeks in November, to fewer than 12,000 in recent days.

But the lack of restrictions in the new proclamation still alarmed James in a week where a more infectious strain of coronavirus has been found in Iowa and Reynolds has acknowledged a slower than hoped rollout of vaccine across the state.

More: Iowa is ranked 47th in COVID-19 vaccine supply. Gov. Kim Reynolds wants to know why

“It is mind boggling to me that the governor did not consult her own public health experts when making such a major public health decision for our state,” James said in an interview. “The only sense I can make of such an egregious omission is this is about politics, and not the well being of Iowans.”

Nick Coltrain is a politics and data reporter for the Register. Reach him at ncoltrain@registermedia.com or at 515-284-8361.





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