The largely maskless crowd on the South Lawn of the White House for President Trump’s speech accepting the Republican nomination happened to number about the same as the new COVID-19 cases that day in the state with one of the highest infection rates.
Iowa reported a record 1,289 new cases on Thursday. But any comparison between that and the 1,000 plus supporters arrayed before Trump was not one he would have wanted anybody to make. He was busy diverting attention from the pandemic while talking about crime, declaring that America’s most dangerous cities in that regard are run by Democrats.
“Nobody will be safe in Biden’s America,” Trump warned.
The least safe place to be in Trump’s America as measured by COVID-19 at the moment is run by a Republican, the very same Gov. Kim Reynolds who gushed over Trump during an Oval Office open-press discussion about the pandemic back on May 6. Also in attendance were Vice President Mike Pence and a state epidemiologist, Dr. Caitlin Pedati.
COVID Kim, as Reynolds has since come to be known, began by proving that governor can be a synonym for suck-up.
“I appreciate the opportunity to be here to personally say thank you to both you and the vice president and your incredible team,” Reynolds said. “The partnership and the collaboration as we’ve moved through this pandemic has been incredible.”
She went on, “Testing has been one of the areas that we are really leading on, so we know that that’s critical for us to start to reopen Iowa. We have—through the Test Iowa process, we have an assessment that Iowans can take and really monitor their own health.”
Reynolds did not say so, but neither Trump nor Pence had anything to do with Test Iowa. A person she might have thanked was Ashton Kutcher, who had asked her in April if she had ever heard of Test Utah. The actor connected Reynolds with an acquaintance who was involved with a group of companies providing testing in Utah.
Reynolds soon after approved a $26 million no-bid contract with the same companies, Nomi Health, Domo and Qualtrics. She now told Trump that along with expanded testing, Iowa was conducting “robust case investigation and contact tracing.”
“Which has helped us identify, kind of, the scope of the virus activity so that we can be targeted in our approach and really help prevent it from really spiking and spreading,” she said. “And so it helps us kind of contain and manage the virus as we move—as we move forward.”
She then said something that fit with Trump’s push to make things at least appear normal before the election.
“We now really can start to open up Iowa in a responsible manner using the data that we have,” she reported, adding that the health-care system was prepared to handle any possible surge.
“Yeah, it's great,” Trump said.
Eight days before, Trump had issued an Executive Order for meat-packing plants to remain open. These included at least one major facility that had shut down after a major outbreak, but Reynolds now reported it was back in operation with a reordered production line and screens between workers.
“They have to have the mask on when they enter the facility,” Reynolds added. “Many times, they have the mask and the face shield. They’re doing social distancing. “
“And they feel much better, don’t they?” Trump asked.
“And they feel better, yeah,” Reynolds said. “We’re providing them the confidence of a safe environment, but at the same time, we’re making sure that the food supply chain is moving.”
At another moment in the meeting, Trump suggested that testing across America was to blame for the high number of cases compared to other nations, such as China.
“In a way, by doing all of this testing, we make ourselves look bad,” Trump said. “We’re going to have more cases because we do more testing. Otherwise, you don’t know if you have a case. I think that’s a correct statement.”
A reasonable response would have been to tell Trump he was nuts.
“Yeah, well, in Iowa right now, on a per capita basis, we’ve tested 1 in 50 Iowans,” Reynolds instead said. “I mean, that’s significant. But that really provides us the data that we need to understand the virus activity better. And so, we are aggressively testing, and we’re testing in hotspots, so our numbers are going to go up.”
Trump is always looking for ways to minimize the pandemic. He turned to Pedati.
“So do you think it goes away—it maybe comes back a little bit or a lot, but do you think it goes away in Iowa before the end of the summer?” Trump asked.
“I think it’s hard to predict,” Pedati said. “I think that part of what’s been so important about the response so far is how we coordinate to be prepared for a variety of scenarios.”
“And only time will tell that,” Trump said.
“And only time,” Reynolds said.
“I think that’s right,” Pedati said.
Trump asked Pedati how she could compare COVID-19 to the flu.
“Part of the challenge with a new virus is that you have a population that’s never seen it before,” Pedati said. “So everybody is susceptible, and we don’t yet have a medication or vaccine, which makes it a little bit trickier than influenza.”
She added that this was why public health officials talk so much about mitigation strategies.
“Things like washing your hands frequently, you know, staying home when you’re sick, “ Pedati said.
She apparently knew better than to mention that medical imperative but political no-no: masks.
“So I have known people that have had the flu,” Trump said in his perpetual effort to minimize. “All my life, I’ve known people—many, many people.”
The talk returned to COVID-19.
“It’s not going to go away for a while, so we need to learn how to manage it and not have it control our lives,” Reynolds said. “And I believe that we can do that in a safe and responsible way, based on the testing, based on the data that we have in real time, and the targeted approach that we can take moving forward.”
She went on, “We have to be responsible. If you’re a vulnerable, older adult with underlying conditions, you need to stay home. We still have our social distancing that we talk about every single day. And we’re not allowing people to gather in groups of more than 10. So we’re being—you told us to be responsible.”
She here also failed to mention masks, which are apparently something you can discuss with Trump only when it concerns meat-plant workers or other folks needed to keep his beautiful economy going.
“Yeah,” Trump said.
“And we’re being responsible,” Reynolds repeated. “And I think, by doing that, we can really start to move through this.”
“And I’m being responsible too,” Trump said.
Pence took an opportunity to be Pence.
“Mr. President, I’m—I’m so grateful for the governor’s leadership in Iowa, so very impressed with her team,” Pence said. “I mean, Iowa has been leading the pack. “
He also said, “Iowa, with Governor Reynolds’s leadership, has been a success story because whether it be the mitigation efforts, social distancing efforts, and now rolling out testing at a record pace in the state, Iowa has stayed in front of this effort and really represented some of the very best state response across the Heartland.”
He also did not mention masks.
“Incredible, right? Trump said. “What a great governor—the enthusiasm, the knowledge. You know, you need both. You can’t just have one or the other.”
Trump said, as he had before, that he viewed himself as a wartime president.
“You know, we do very well against the visible enemies,” he said. “It’s the invisible enemy. This is an invisible enemy. So—but we’re doing a good job.”
He suggested countries reporting a much lower fatality rate are fudging the numbers.
“But our numbers are, you know, essentially certified numbers,” he said. “It’s a big number, but it’s also a number that it’s at the lower scale... of any number that we — that was predicted, because if you look at the predictions, I guess they said from 100 to 220 thousand.”
He went on, “That’s if we did the big shut-ins and if we went to the total shutdown. And now it’s time to open up our country. We’re going to open up our country.”
Reynold returned to Iowa and by the end of May she had reopened restaurants and bars as well as movie theaters and museums and wedding halls. High school sports were authorized to resume in June.
“With appropriate public health measures in place,” Reynolds said of the reopenings.
That included at least an attempt at social distancing. But Reynolds refused to institute a mask mandate. A governor who has twice been arrested for driving under the influence contended that this form of endangering others was “unenforceable.” She again used the Trumpian word she had repeated in the Oval Office.
“Let’s focus on being responsible,” she said. “Let’s focus on flattening the curve. And let’s focus on doing the right thing. I believe that we can do that without a mask mandate.”
Upticks soon became spikes. Several municipalities and counties announced mask mandates of their own.
“I get that people feel they have freedoms, but that also means you feel like you have the freedom to drive drunk or to drive a bus on drugs,” Johnson County Supervisor Janelle Rettig was quoted as saying by The Iowa City Press-Citizen. “I mean, sometimes your freedom ends when you can kill other people, and this is that case.”
Reynolds contended that the officials lacked the power to impose such a measure in a pandemic.
“We don’t believe during a public health emergency that the local governments have the authority to supersede what has been put in place at the statewide level by the governor,” she said.
She also said, “I just don’t believe that a one-size-fits-all from a government mandate is the right direction.”
That did not stop her from imposing a one-size-fits all government mandate requiring all schools to reopen with in-class learning, another Trump obsession in his desire of the illusion of normalcy. Des Moines—which has joined Johnson County and other locales in going ahead with a mask mandate—announced that its school would be reopening exclusively remotely Sept. 8. The school board, in an editorial in the Des Moines Register, charged Reynolds with nonfeasance.
“Reynolds has failed to uphold her duty under Article 1, Sections 1 and 2 of the Iowa Constitution to protect the health and safety of Iowans by requiring in-person learning during the pandemic,” the editorial said.
But institutions of higher learning education such as the University of Iowa in Johnson County reopened, and the number of infections shot up, particularly among the 18 to 25 set.
“We’ve all been 19 before,” Johnson County public health director Dave Koch told The Daily Beast. “It's an uphill battle.”
He said his county is using educational outreach to impart a basic lesson: “The decisions we make do have an impact on others.”
COVID Kim continued to ignore that same lesson and remained steadfast against a mask mandate. Iowa was the hottest hot spot in the country when she addressed the Republican National Convention on Tuesday night, but she mentioned the virus only in a single phrase thanking Trump for helping businesses affected by it.
Instead, Reynold’s focus was on thanking Trump for helping Iowa in the wake of a devastating derecho storm. She closed by praising Trump in general terms for enabling the country to “show resolve through adversity.” The prepared text had read “bounce back from setbacks,” but there was apparently a last minute change, perhaps because adversity sounds too much like a continuing problem, such as a pandemic.
Back in Iowa, the virus count kept climbing to where Reynolds shut down the bars in six counties, including Johnson, effective Thursday. That was the day of the number of new COVID-19 cases, a tally about equal to the maskless folks who filled the folding chairs set considerably less than 6 feet apart on the South Lawn.
The virus had not proven to be some flu that would vanish in the summer. And Trump could no longer say our fatalities were not so high, because the deaths were already fast approaching the upper range of what he said back in May he had saved us from suffering. The best he could do was try to ignore the pandemic and convince people that what they really had to fear was crime.
As Trump told the maskless crowd that nobody would be safe in Biden’s America, the COVID-19 count kept climbing everywhere in Trump’s America save where people really are social distancing and really are wearing a damn mask, despite the likes of COVID Kim.