Iowa Governor Did Not Consult Public Health Department Before Removing Mask Mandate, Democrats Say
Multiple Democratic lawmakers said the director of the Iowa Department of Public Health told them on Monday that Gov. Kim Reynolds did not ask for the department’s input before removing the state’s limited mask mandate.
The department and the governor’s office did not deny these reports.
Rep. Lindsay James, D-Dubuque, said she was on the weekly call Democratic lawmakers have with the IDPH to discuss pandemic-related questions and updates.
James said a lawmaker asked IDPH Director Kelly Garcia about whether Reynolds consulted with the department before removing the limited mask mandate and business restrictions.
“When Director Kelly Garcia got that question, she commented that no, they had not been consulted regarding the governor’s latest health proclamation,” James said.
James said Garcia confirmed that IDPH was consulted before Reynolds put the limited mask requirement and other COVID-19 restrictions in place last November. Reynolds, a Republican, announced Friday afternoon she would rescind mitigation measures, and the changes took effect Sunday.
“It took my breath away,” James said. “It is mind boggling to me that the governor didn’t consult her own public health experts when making such a major public health decision for our state,” James said.
In a statement, Reynolds’ spokesperson Pat Garrett did not deny the reports from Democratic lawmakers.
“The governor has been consistent since the beginning of the pandemic and is following through with her commitment to dial back restrictions based on a significant decrease in COVID hospitalizations,” Garrett said.
IDPH spokesperson Sarah Ekstrand also did not deny the reports.
“IDPH advises the governor daily on the state’s COVID-19 response,” Ekstrand said. “As the governor has done from the beginning of this pandemic, she has adjusted the mitigation efforts based on the availability of healthcare resources.”
In a media briefing Monday, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky was asked for her reaction to states, including Iowa, rolling back restrictions.
“Given that we’re still at over 100,000 cases a day, I would discourage any such activity,” Walensky said. “We are still in the first 100 days [of the Biden administration] when we want everyone masked for the first 100 days. We have yet to control the pandemic. We still have this emerging threat of variants. And I would just simply discourage any of those activities. We really need to keep all of the mitigation measures in play here if we’re really going to get control of this pandemic.”
Hospitalizations related to COVID-19 have decreased dramatically in Iowa since their peak in mid-November, when Reynolds put a very limited mask mandate in place along with some restrictions on gatherings and businesses. At the time, there were a record number of more than 1,500 people in Iowa’s hospitals with COVID-19, and that number has been below 400 for the past 10 days.
Iowa’s number of reported COVID-19 infections has also decreased significantly since November. But Iowa also has one of the lowest rates of testing in the country, according to the New York Times.