Eight days before Christmas, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds offered what she hoped would be a gift to small businesses in her besieged state: new, looser restrictions on COVID-19. But medical experts tell the Daily Beast it’s a gift many Iowa residents will soon desperately – and unable – to return after the holiday season.
Just in time for the last weekend before the holidays, Reynolds on Thursday signed a proclamation that lifted the ceiling of 15 people on indoor gatherings and allowed bars and restaurants to return to normal operating hours, with groups not exceeding eight and kept at a distance of six feet. The decree only requires customers to wear masks when they are not seated and employees exposed to the public to wear blankets in general. In other indoor environments, such protective equipment is only needed when people are less than two meters away. Instagram posts from Friday and Saturday showed sisterhood girls from Iowa City and punk rockers in Des Moines gathering unmasked at local water holes.
At a Tuesday morning press conference, Reynolds boasted that his condition “continues to see a decline” in cases and hospitalizations, particularly from November, when Iowa suffered its deadliest month and that his medical system is on the verge of collapse.
But data from Johns Hopkins University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points to a different and alarming trend. The national tracking system that the first has in place since the early days of the pandemic shows that Iowa is among only 11 states that have seen an increase in the number of infections in the past week – and the only one in the Midwest – and a positivity rate surpassed only by Pennsylvania, Idaho and Alabama.
Meanwhile, federal figures show that in the seven-day period ending Dec. 21, Iowa lost 376 people to the disease, linking it with the Dakotas for the worst death rate ever. to the people of the whole country.
Against this backdrop, Reynolds’ decision to reduce restrictions frightened health professionals across the state.
“It’s not like our number of cases has gone down that much. They are down a bit, but not in a substantial way, ”said Dr. Stanley Perlman, chair of virology at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine and career expert on coronaviruses. “I think all the data shows that this is probably going to be a problem. The number of cases will likely increase after the holidays. “
Drinking and eating indoors are particularly risky activities, Perlman warned, especially in winter, when owners are less likely to open their establishments to the flow of outside air. While he admitted that it is possible for a restaurant or bar to maintain strict protocols regarding distance, facial covering, ventilation and interactions between members of separated households, he argued that consistency is essential. difficult to guarantee. Longer hours, on the other hand, widen the window of exposure for staff and customers.
Perlman considered Reynolds’ new rules to be consistent with her repeated calls for Iowans to take “personal responsibility” for controlling the spread of the virus.
“It would be great if we could all be responsible for ourselves, and my health as an individual is all that matters. But it’s just not that simple, ”he said. “You end up with a high number of cases in assisted living facilities and vulnerable populations, and people end up dying.”
Perlman’s colleague at the University of Iowa, epidemiologist Dr Eli Perencevich, looked even more dire.
“It’s going to be very tough the next few months. A lot of people are going to die, ”said Perencevich, associate president of clinical and health services research.
Like Perlman, Perencevich sympathized with the plight of struggling small entrepreneurs. But he argued that the state should keep non-essential businesses closed until the death rate has dropped to zero, and subsidize them from the state’s massive annual budget surpluses. Meanwhile, he urged the governor to make the state mask mandate “absolute.”
According to him, Reynolds’ current policies will produce little short-term benefit – and a lot of long-term suffering for business owners and consumers.
“The things that she has relaxed aren’t really going to help the economy, and it’s going to lead to more cases, which is going to hurt the economy,” he said. “We should restrict things until there are no more deaths.”
Reynolds’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But a spokesperson asked the Daily Beast to provide glowing comments Jason Harrington, CEO of the Lakes Regional Health System, made about the governor at Tuesday’s press conference. Harrington’s remarks focused on the distribution of the vaccine and state aid to fund staff and facilitate outpatient care.
The spokesperson identified Harrington as a doctor. However, his degree is in osteopathic medicine, which deals primarily with joints and the spine, and he appears to have spent his career primarily in hospital administration.
And, although he said that “the numbers are down” overall at his rural northwest Iowa medical facility, he admitted that he had actually witnessed a spike. among people in need of long-term care.
“Unfortunately, our number of inpatients is on the rise due to some peaks in nursing homes,” Harrington said.
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