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Iowa Governor Rejects White House Task Force Recommendations As Coronavirus Cases Surge

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds is seen on a monitor as she updates the state's response to the coronavirus outbreak during a news conference, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, in Johnston.
Charlie Neibergall
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds updates the state's response to the coronavirus outbreak during a news conference Aug. 4 in Johnston.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds is continuing to reject several recommendations from the White House Coronavirus Task Force as coronavirus cases surge in the state.

Themost recent report from the task force, dated Aug. 30, says Iowa has the highest rate of new coronavirus infections in the country, and the fifth highest test positivity rate.

“Community transmission continues to be high in rural and urban counties across Iowa, with increasing transmission in the major university towns,” the report reads. “Mask mandates across the state must be in place to decrease transmission.”

The report also says bars “must be closed” in 61 counties and restaurant capacity should be restricted. It says the state should limit the size of social gatherings to 10 people or fewer in the 28 counties with the most virus transmission, and that gyms should be closed in those counties as well.

Reynolds was asked Wednesday why she is not implementing the task force recommendations.

“I have done a lot of them, but we have data that we’re looking at on a daily basis,” Reynolds said. “So I still believe it’s up to the governors in the various states to make those decisions.”

She added the task force doesn’t always have access to all the data and contact tracing information that the state is using.

Last week, Reynoldsordered bars to close in six counties, said gatherings must ensure social distancing, and said she is “strongly encouraging” Iowans to wear a mask. But all other businesses are allowed to be fully open, and all kinds of activities and gatherings are permitted in Iowa. She said the state is already following some task force recommendations, like working to provide testing supplies to colleges and nursing homes.

Reynolds said she hopes these measures bring down the state’s number of new coronavirus cases soon.

“And if they don’t, then we’ll take additional steps,” Reynolds said. “But right now I feel that that’s the steps that we can take.”

Reynolds has repeatedly said she doesn’t believe a mask requirement is needed and has not given local governments the authority to enforce their own mask mandates.

She said the bar closures were based on contact tracing information and data showing that young adults were making up a bigger share of the state's new coronavirus cases. And she emphasized that population is less likely to experience serious complications from COVID-19.

“But when you have numbers that high, then it starts to really drive community spread in those areas,” Reynolds said. "Then it starts to impact health care workforce, which is a resource that we’ve been monitoring throughout COVID-19.”

The White House Coronavirus Task Force report said 28 counties in Iowa already have high levels of community spread, putting them in the “red zone.”

Reynolds said young adults should practice personal responsibility and consider the impact on older and more vulnerable family members.

But she also defended Iowa State University’s previous decision to allow 25,000 fans at a football game, which ISU reversed Wednesday.

Reynolds has declined to put White House-recommended restrictions in place at least as far back as mid-July, the first time a task force report was made public by the Center for Public Integrity.

At the time, the White House Coronavirus Task Force recommended closing bars in 47 counties and implementing additional restrictions, but those were not put in place.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter