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‘I’m not a scientist’: Gov. Reynolds on face masks; the Iowa State Fair opens as COVID cases keep climbing


Gov. Kim Reynolds welcomes Iowans back to the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 12, 2021. — video still/We Are Iowa

The Iowa State Fair opened its 11-day run on Thursday with limited COVID-19 precautions, even though new data from the Iowa Department of Public Health showed new cases of the virus are continuing to increase rapidly and the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patient took a dramatic jump.

In its weekly update issued on Wednesday, IDPH reported 4,872 more Iowans had tested positive for COVID-19 over the previous seven days. That is the highest number of new cases of the virus in a seven-day period in the past six months. As the Des Moines Register noted, new cases occurred at a rate of 696 per day, “nearly tenfold what it was a month ago.”

IDPH also reported another 17 deaths from the virus, bringing the total number of reported COVID-19 deaths in the state to 6,210.

The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients grew from 201 to 355 over the most recent seven-day reporting period — an increase of 76.6 percent. It is also substantially higher than the number of COVID-19 patients one year ago. On Aug. 11, 2020, a total of 257 COVID-19 patients were in Iowa hospitals.

The last time Iowa had this many COVID-19 patients hospitalized was Feb. 2.

The Iowa State Fair, which attracted a record-setting 1,170,375 attendees in 2019, is counting on a strong turnout this year, in hopes of making up for the losses the fair and its vendors experience in 2020, when rampant community spread of the original Alpha variant of the coronavirus caused its cancellation.

This year, the fair is advertising that it is taking efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, but those efforts are largely limited to increasing the number of times restrooms and other facilities open to the public are cleaned, and providing hand-sanitizing station. While both are welcome improvements, neither is particularly effective against the transmission of the Delta variant. The two measures that would be easiest and most effective to implement — having attendees wear masks and increasing social distancing — are not being implemented.

Masks are not required at the state fair, even when inside buildings. And there will be no limit on the number of people who can be in one of the fair’s buildings at any time.

Gov. Reynolds didn’t mention COVID-19 during her remarks at the state fair’s opening ceremony, but has been heavily promoting the fair, both in her capacity as governor and as a candidate for reelection in 2022.

Last week, the Reynolds reelection campaign began marketing a T-shirt that says “You’ll Find Me At The Fair,” in a design that apes the style of Raygun shirts.

Raygun immediately responded with a new shirt of its own.

Reynolds’ reluctance to address COVID-19 was also on display during an interview this week with KCRG-TV’s Beth Malicki.

Malicki asked Reynolds what would be needed for the governor to follow the CDC’s guidance that everyone in school buildings wear masks, regardless of vaccination status, in order to limit the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant and protect children younger than 12 and others who cannot be vaccinated.

“So right now, I’d like to see data, they’re not very transparent with the data,” the governor said, repeating a claim she’s made before about the CDC. “I’ve asked for a lot of data on their requirement for masks and they have not been forthcoming.”

Reynolds said “we can find data on both sides of the issue” regarding whether masks are effective at limiting the spread of COVID-19. This, of course, is not true. All credible studies done on this issue indicate that wearing face masks is an effective way of limiting virus spread.

As the interview continued, Malicki pushed the governor on her mask stance, pointing out “the research is pretty clear that masks do work.”

“Well, N-95s work, yeah, they work if you wear them right,” Reynolds replied, before retreating into false equivalence again. “There’s also data that says that they don’t. I mean, there’s data on both sides so you can find.”

Asked if she actually believes that there is equal evidence on both sides regarding the effectiveness of masks, Reynolds said, “Oh, listen, I’m not a scientist, so I have to take — I have to do the best that I can do with the information that I received, but really what I think I need to do is, I don’t know.”

The 2019 Iowa State Fair. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

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