Gov. Reynolds uses elimination of COVID-19 restrictions in fundraising pitches

Emma McClatchey/Little Village

Gov. Kim Reynolds is fundraising off her elimination of Iowa’s few COVID-19 restrictions, telling supporters she is standing up to “radicals on the Left” who “want to shut Iowa down.”

The governor tweeted out that message on Thursday morning, and asked “Are you with me?”

The tweet contains a clip of Reynolds’ Monday night appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show, and links to a fundraising site with suggested donation amounts ranging from $5 to $500.

The governor tweeted the same Fox News clip and fundraising link on Wednesday afternoon, but her message then didn’t mention “radicals.”

Both tweets were posted on KimReynoldsIA, the Twitter account Reynolds uses for campaign-related matters.

Reynolds lifted the state’s limited mask mandate, as well as limits on the size of gatherings and social distancing requirements for bars and restaurants when she issued a new emergency health proclamation late Friday afternoon. The interim director of the Iowa Department of Public Health told Democratic lawmakers on Monday morning that Reynolds did not ask for the department’s opinion on removing those restrictions before doing so.

The governor wasn’t asked if she had solicited IDPH’s opinion at her news conference on Wednesday, but did defend her decision to remove the restrictions by saying she was just being consistent with previous actions during the pandemic.

“My position on dialing up and dialing down on our metrics has been consistent from the very beginning,” Reynolds said. “And I think that’s one of the things Iowans appreciate about the steps that I’ve taken.”

The governor pointed out that the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients has now dropped below 300 for the first time since September.

And while numbers have declined since the peak in November, the daily number of new cases, as well as the number of reported deaths and hospitalizations, are still significantly higher than they were during the spring and summer.

Reynolds elaborated on her thinking regarding COVID-19 restrictions during the question period of the news conference.

“I’m not saying go out there and be carefree and not be responsible,” she said. “I’m saying, I trust Iowans to do the right thing. And I know our businesses will do the right thing, too — they’re doing it every day. Our schools are doing the right thing. So, I don’t think they need me to say, ‘mandate it [sic].’”

Of course, the governor didn’t think that some of the state’s largest school districts were doing the right thing by offering less than 100 percent in-person instruction as part of their COVID-19 mitigation efforts, which is why she made a bill mandating it as one of her top legislative priorities this year.

Reynolds’ news conference last week was held one day before she removed the COVID-19 restrictions. She didn’t mention her intention to do that during the news conference. On Wednesday, Reynolds was asked if there was a particular reason she didn’t announce what she was planning to do.

“No,” the governor said. “We just really were focused on vaccine at that point.” She said that focus was important last week “so Iowans know where we’re at” with vaccines.

The slow rollout of the state’s vaccination program was also a major topic at Wednesday’s news conference.

Last week, the governor said her staff and IDPH were looking into why Iowa had one of the lowest rates of vaccination in the nation. On Wednesday, she enumerated the problems they had found.

According to the governor, the low rate was due in part to bad weather interfering with vaccination efforts, and some was caused by the counties not expanded eligibility to cover workers in Tier 1 of Phase 1B, and those 65 and older, until the state imposed a deadline of Feb. 1.

“However there still are some counties that need additional assistance from the state to administer their on-hand vaccine inventory,” Reynolds said. “We’re continuing to connect with them, and we’re ensuring that plans are in place to help expedite that process.”

The governor added she is considering using the Iowa National Guard to support vaccination efforts around the state.

The rate of vaccination has improved since last week, but the governor said the biggest obstacle is that Iowa is still receiving a very limited amount of vaccine from the federal government. In the distribution system set up by the Trump administration in December, Iowa ranks 47th.

The governor said the Biden administration informed governors this week that it will be increasing the amount of vaccines each state receives by 5 percent starting next week.

Reynolds was also asked on Wednesday about the online registration site for vaccination appointments she announced last week. Following a one-day application period, IDPH awarded construction of the site to Microsoft.

“This is a place where individuals can register to be vaccinated and then be referred to a provider when they are eligible and vaccine is available,” the governor said, describing plans for the site.

According to Microsoft’s application, the site should be launched “in two weeks,” Reynolds said.

The governor was asked why no one in her administration realized until last week that a centralized site would be needed to facilitate vaccinations. Reynolds did not directly answer the question, but in her reply explained her administration had been looking at using existing state resources to facilitate registering for vaccination.

“We tried to take the infrastructure that we have and make that available, and some of the problem is really a lot of systems are just so antiquated and they’re siloed and they’re not operating in the capacity that we need them to do,” the governor said.

“There’s not enough law enforcement in the country to make people do what we say to do!” Gov. Reynolds said, explaining why she rolled back the state’s COVID-19 mandates against health officials’ guidance. Feb. 11, 2021

This isn’t the first time Iowa has had a problem like this during the pandemic, she said. Reynolds compared the current situation to the difficulty IDPH had in determining how many ICU beds were available in the state following the discovery of COVID-19 in Iowa on March 8.

It wasn’t until the end of March that IDPH was able to definitely determine Iowa had “about 600 ICU beds,” as the governor explained at a March 31 news conference.

“That took a tremendous amount of cooperation, coordination by our hospitals and clinics,” Reynolds said on Wednesday about the ICU bed count in March. “And I’m really proud of the effort that they were able to put in place.”

Microsoft will only be responsible for the online site. On Monday, IDPH amended its request proposal, saying it would consider a different vendor to provide call center services related to scheduling vaccinations. The department is supposed to announce who the company it has selected to provide those services on Friday.

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