Gov. Kim Reynolds’ administration has decided Iowa no longer needs the weekly report on the state from the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
“We are not requesting the report at this time,” Iowa Department of Public Health spokesperson Sarah Ekstrand told the Des Moines Register in an email on Monday afternoon.
Ekstrand did not respond to questions about why the department feels it does not need the report.
The task force had been sending weekly reports to each state detailing the spread of COVID-19 in that state and offering specific mitigation strategies since June. On Dec. 22, the White House emailed state health agencies informing them that the reports would now be “available by request” instead of automatically provided at the beginning of each week.
The White House did not respond to questions about the change from CNN, which first reported the new policy.
It’s perhaps not a surprise that the Reynolds administration is willing to ignore the report, since the governor routinely rejected the task force’s recommendations for greater mitigation efforts, but the weekly task force reports have been an important source of information for Iowans attempting to assess the effectiveness of the state’s COVID-19 strategy.
For example, the Oct. 11 task force report ranked Iowa as seventh in the country for the rate of new cases of COVID-19 with “199 new cases per 100,000 population in the last week, compared to a national average of 100 per 100,000,” and warned, “Community spread continues in both rural and urban areas of Iowa and it is critical that mitigation efforts increase to include mask wearing, physical distancing, hand hygiene, and avoiding crowds in public and social gatherings in private to stop the increasing spread among residents.”
Reynolds, by contrast, said during a news conference that week that even though the state was experiencing “significant spread” of the virus, no new mitigation actions were needed.
“I think we have to learn to normalize our lives,” Reynolds said during her Oct. 15 news conference. “We have to learn to live with it and we have to do it in a safe and responsible manner. I think we can do that.”
At the time, the largest surge in COVID-19 activity Iowa has experienced was building. Reynolds, however, waited until after the Nov. 3 election to implement any new restrictions to limit the spread of the virus.
The state’s decision to stop receiving the reports comes as public health experts are concerned a new surge in virus activity may result from gatherings and travel during the Christmas and New Year holidays.
The last task force report on Iowa made public noted that new mitigation efforts implemented in November had reduced COVID-19 transmission in the state. But the task force said in the report dated Dec. 6, “Mitigation efforts must increase… with an additional focus on uniform behavioral changes including masking, physical distancing, hand hygiene and aggressive testing to find asymptomatic individuals responsible for the majority of infectious spread.”
Since that report, Gov. Reynolds has lifted most of the new restrictions she introduced in November.