Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds finally adopted some semblance of a mask mandate this week, but in addressing her about-face, she managed to make a muddle of it—claiming there is science to support “both sides” of the issue.
In a press conference Tuesday afternoon, amid a record-breaking surge in coronavirus cases in her state, Reynolds explained the details of the order she issued a day earlier requiring Iowans to wear a face-covering under limited circumstances.
Even with its loopholes, the order was a change of heart from the Republican’s previous claims that mask mandates are just a “feel-good” measure. “I’m just reminding and asking all Iowans to step up and help us stop the spread of this virus together,” she said.
At the same time, however, Reynolds pointed to states she said had implemented mask mandates but were still seeing rising case counts. When a reporter pointed out that this is a talking point of mask opponents, Reynolds replied, “There’s science on both sides, and you know that. If you look you can find whatever you want to support whatever you’re at. And so what I’m saying is, let’s do everything we can.”
Later, when questioned by another reporter about this comment, Reynolds doubled down.
“I think if you talk to different people, there are different studies on both,” she said, referring to the effectiveness of mask mandates. “We’re going to continue to look at all the mitigation efforts and we’re going to move forward with what I think will have an impact on bringing the numbers down. But I do think there is data out there on both.”
Arnold Monto, a professor of epidemiology and global health at the University of Michigan, took issue with Reynold’s “both sides” defense.
“There's always some science on both sides, that's the scientific method,” he said. “It's the preponderance of evidence [that matters].”
And when it comes to wearing masks, he added, “the overwhelming evidence is that it works.” While questions remain about the best way to convince people to wear a mask, Monto said, “My view is that a mandate under an emergency situation is a useful and efficient way to go."
A study of 15 states and Washington, D.C. published in Health Affairs this summer found that mask mandates were associated with a reduction in the COVID-19 daily growth rate and may have averted up to 450,000 cases. And, despite Reynolds’ comments at the press conference, Vox noted that eight of the top 10 states with the highest new cases per capita in October did not have a widespread mask mandate.
New daily cases and hospitalizations have doubled in Iowa in the last two weeks, mirroring spikes in states across the country. At the beginning of the month, 14 percent of hospitalized patients had COVID-19, Reynolds said. On Tuesday, it was up to 28 percent.
The governor has previously been criticized for refusing to implement a mask mandate, including by the White House Coronavirus Task Force, which said in a recent report that the state needed “immediate action including mask requirements to decrease severity in morbidity and mortality among Iowans."
Reynolds’ Nov. 16 order included restrictions on social gatherings, both indoors and outdoors, and required restaurants and bars to close by 10 p.m. Her mask mandate, however, was less clear-cut. It exempted Iowans from having to cover their faces at spiritual gatherings, during physical exercise, or while performing for an audience. It also does not apply in situations where people can be socially distanced and interacting for less than 15 minutes.
If people are confused by the guidelines—which in fact caused considerable confusion at Tuesday's press conference—Reynolds said they should “just put the mask on” She did not, however, say why she didn’t follow the lead of governors in some other states and issue a mandate that would require everyone to do just that.
The U.S. overall is averaging 150,000 new cases per day and hit its 11 millionth confirmed case Sunday. In response, a number of states have instituted more restrictions in recent days, with some governors, like Oklahoma’s Kevin Stitt, stopping short of requiring masks, and others like North Dakota’s Doug Burgum finally heeding the call of public health officials and putting one in place.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine issued a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew for the whole state over the next 21 days. Chicago’s stay-at-home order went into effect Monday, and Philadelphia will ban indoor gatherings and indoor dining starting Friday. New Mexico is currently under a two-week lockdown, and approximately 94 percent of California’s population is under the state’s most restrictive lockdown tier, which shutters most non-essential indoor businesses. Delaware on Tuesday restricted private gatherings to 10 people or fewer and issued a ban on youth sports leagues participating in tournaments with out-of-state teams.
“We are sounding the alarm,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a press release Monday. “Now is the time to do all we can—government at all levels and Californians across the state—to flatten the curve again as we have done before.”