Iowa State University announced on Wednesday afternoon it will not be permitting spectators to attend its first home football game on Saturday, Sept. 12. The university had been widely criticized for its previous decision to allow 25,000 spectators to attend the game despite a spike in COVID-19 cases in Ames.
The change in policy was announced less than two hours after Gov. Kim Reynolds defended ISU’s decision to allow fans in Jack Trice Stadium.
“We can do these things safely and responsible [sic],” Reynolds said at her Wednesday morning news conference when asked by a reporter if she supported the plan to bring thousands of people to a stadium in a city with one of the highest rates of new COVID-19 infections in country.
“But we have to have personal responsibility, we have to be aware of what the data is, and then we have to make decisions based on that,” the governor said, returning to the common themes she uses when discussing COVID-19.
Since late April, when she began lifting the minimal virus-related mandates she imposed the previous month, Reynolds has consistently said Iowans should make their own decision about how to behave during the pandemic, using the data published by the Iowa Department of Public Health.
“So, if you have underlying conditions and you’re part of a vulnerable population, maybe I wouldn’t go to the Iowa State football game next week,” the governor continued.
Reynolds was obviously prepared for the question. She glanced down at her podium, as she recited the precise capacity of the stadium: 61,500 spectators. Reynolds said she believed it would be possible to have all the necessary mitigation efforts in place for the fans during the game.
ISU President Wendy Winterstein had already come to a different conclusion by the time the governor, who received a bachelor of liberal studies degree from ISU in December 2016, made her remarks on Wednesday.
“President Wintersteen shared with me on Tuesday evening that, after weighing feedback she has received from the community, she has decided to reverse the decision,” ISU Director of Athletics Jaime Pollard said in a statement. “As a result, we will play the season opener without fans.”
During her press conference, Reynolds pointed to what she said had been a successful return to high school sports in recent weeks, and said such things were an important part of reestablishing a sense of normality during the pandemic.
“You just have to balance all of that,” the governor said. “And if we see an impact, we’ll adjust accordingly.”
“Don’t go, if you don’t think it’s safe, don’t go.”
When the reporter who asked about the game attempted to ask a follow-up question, Reynolds cut her off.
“I’ve answered the question,” the governor said sharply. “Did somebody else have a question?”
The next questioner pointed out that the governor has rejected the recommendations from the White House Coronavirus Task Force, whose latest report listed Iowa as the state with the greatest increase in the rate of COVID-19 cases, and said a statewide mask mandate was needed.
“We’re getting in a worse and worse position, and you give the same message of personal responsibility and it’s just not working,” the reporter noted. He said people wanted to know why she won’t take further action.
“Well, we do know through the data where the numbers are at,” the governor replied.
On Wednesday at 10 a.m., the Iowa Department of Public Health reported another 120 residents of Johnson County had tested positive for COVID-19 during the previous 24 hours. It was the seventh straight day that IDPH had reported a triple-digit increase in confirmed cases of the virus in the county during the 10 a.m. to 10 a.m. period.
The department’s official 14-day positivity rate for Johnson County was 23.3 percent at 10 a.m. on Monday.
Reynolds didn’t mention those numbers during her news conference, but she did say data collected by IDPH showed the spike in cases in Johnson County as being driven by people between the ages of 18 and 24. The governor said she believed her decision to close bars in six counties, including Johnson, would serve to mitigate the spread of the virus.
“So, we’re going to monitor this next week and see if the mitigation efforts we’ve applied starts to reduce those numbers,” Reynolds said. “And if they don’t, then we’ll take additional steps. But right now, I feel that that’s the steps that we can take.”
Another reporter asked Reynolds to explain why she hasn’t implemented the specific mitigation measures recommended in the latest White House Coronavirus Task Force report.
“I’ve done a lot of them,” the governor replied.
That isn’t true. Even in the few mitigation efforts Reynolds has taken, her approach differs significantly from what the task force recommends.
For example, Reynolds ordered bars in six counties closed last week. The task force recommended bars be closed in 61 Iowa counties until those counties have 14-day average positivity rates of less than 3 percent.
The governor also suggested at her news conference that the task force did not understand how successful Iowa has been in limiting the spread of the virus.
“Sometimes they don’t have the entire picture of the things that we’re doing,” Reynolds said of the task force.
At 10 a.m. on Wednesday, IDPH reported another 740 cases of the virus had been confirmed statewide since 10 a.m. on Tuesday. The department also reported another four Iowans had died from COVID-19 during that same period, bringing the state’s death toll to 1,125.