Des Moines Register. September 1, 2020

The last thing Iowans should do: Attend an Iowa State football game with 25,000 fans

The local restaurant may have an open table inside, but you can order takeout.

Your niece may be getting married at an indoor garden next weekend, but you can send a gift through the mail.

The grocery store may have a sale on tomatoes, but you can have them delivered.

Iowa State may be opening its football stadium to 25,000 spectators on Sept. 12, but you can watch the game on ESPN.

You shouldn’t attend.

And that message is coming from the White House.

A weekly White House coronavirus task force report to Iowa officials dated Sunday, Aug. 30, opens with these words: “Iowa is in the red zone for cases, indicating more than 100 new cases per 100,000 population last week, with the highest rate in the country. Iowa is in the red zone for test positivity, indicating a rate above 10 percent, with the 5th highest rate in the country.”

Translation: The novel coronavirus is spreading like crazy in this state. More people are dying. Take action immediately to mitigate spread and save lives.

While messaging from the current president about the novel virus has been inconsistent and fraught with problems, messaging in the report from his task force is crystal clear: Iowa is in trouble.

Twenty-eight counties are considered “red zones.” These counties, both rural and urban, include Polk, Johnson, Story, Lee, Sioux, Warren and Marshall. The cities of Des Moines, Iowa City and Ames were specifically listed as hot spots.

And to those who believe only the most elderly, frail people are at risk of death from COVID-19: While about half of the more than 1,100 Iowans who have died so far resided in nursing homes, the rest of them didn’t.

The report directly and clearly tells public officials what they should do in “red zone” communities. Specific policy recommendations include closing bars and gyms, ensuring that all businesses require masks, telling people in all age groups with preexisting health conditions to “shelter in place” and providing

Whether Gov. Kim Reynolds listens to the recommendations in this report remains to be seen.

She has refused to impose a statewide mask mandate and has challenged local governments that impose them. She insisted schools conduct classes in person. She has repeatedly said she trusts Iowans to do the right thing to contain spread of this virus.

Now we’re seeing how that strategy has worked out.

Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard insists that the athletic department’s mitigation efforts are sufficient. Unfortunately, the $16 million-plus it takes in from ticket sales each year, the vast majority from football, is apparently speaking more loudly than prudence and public health experts.

But individual Iowans can choose to listen to those public health experts. We can each choose to heed the warnings in this White House report and follow its recommendations. Wear a mask at all times outside your home and physically distance from others. Take extra measures to protect vulnerable people, including anyone who is obese, has high blood pressure or diabetes.

And limit gatherings to 10 people or fewer, which sure as heck rules out attending a college football game.


Quad-City Times. September 2, 2020

Iowa State’s covid gamble

The two headlines in our Tuesday sports section were striking in the story they told:

“Iowa pauses all athletic activity,” read one.

“Cyclones plan for 25,000 at games,” read the other.

The Hawkeyes’ decision to suspend sports activities came after the university’s athletic department reported 93 more positive coronavirus test results among its 815 student-athletes, coaches and staff.

Iowa State has no such outbreak among its student-athletes, but these headlines come as both college communities have seen a huge spike in cases recently.

At one point Monday, the Ames and Iowa City metro areas had the highest number of coronavirus cases relative to their population than anywhere else in the country, according to the New York Times database. (On Tuesday, the Muskogee, Oklahoma, area surpassed them for the dubious top spot).

Last month, the Big 10 conference, which includes the University of Iowa, announced it was postponing its fall football season. But the Big 12, of which Iowa State is a member, said that it would go ahead with its season.

Iowa State officials say they have put in place social distancing and other mitigation protocols for their home opener against Louisiana on Sept. 12. And they warn that those who do not follow them will be called on it.

We know that outdoor activities are less risky than congregating indoors. And the reporting we’ve seen says the large outdoor protests against racial injustice, while also risky, did not lead to outbreaks.

Still, the idea that, amid such a huge spike in cases in these college towns, the university is arranging a gathering of up to 25,000 people, is extraordinary.

Just the message it sends is stunning.

University officials say they have a team of experts advising them. But there is disagreement in the medical community. Dr. John Paschen, chairman of the Story County Board of Health, said he is “sorely disappointed” in the decision, according to news reports.

We in the Quad-Cities – whether you live in Scott County or Rock Island County – should be concerned about this. Lots of kids from this area attend these universities. And at some point, they will be returning to their homes. Perhaps this weekend, for the Labor Day holiday.

These college towns aren’t the only sites of growing coronavirus numbers. The White House’s coronavirus task force on Sunday recommended far stricter mitigation measures be undertaken in 61 counties and metro areas throughout the state.

We in the Quad-Cities already are seeing erosion in the gains we made controlling the virus in the last part of July and early August. The 14-day moving average of daily cases is moving steadily upward again.

Iowa State’s athletic director, Jamie Pollard, laid out the rationale for the university’s decision in a letter to Cyclones fans, urging cooperation. He also noted the university expects to lose money. Steve Batterson reported that ISU expects a deficit of $17.5 million for the fiscal year that started in July. That includes a 10% salary reduction being taken by athletic department employees and a 20% operating budget cut.

The shortfall will be covered by accessing unrestricted resources held by the athletic department and the university.

“This is an incredible opportunity for Iowa State University to showcase its ability to successfully navigate the challenges associated with large outdoor events during a pandemic,” Pollard wrote in the letter. “In order for our plans to succeed, we need full buy-in from everyone.”

The odds of that happening seem long. We’re not encouraged given the images we saw of hard-partying students returning to campuses in the state. But it’s hard to completely blame them. We remember how we were when we were their age, and it’s not always fair to expect young adults to fully commit to restraint when many of their elders around the state, even those in positions of responsibility, are not.

We hope that Pollard is right, that the university will be successful.

If not, all of us will bear the consequences of their failure.


Sioux City Journal. September 2, 2020

Mask mandates send stronger message than just suggestions

If Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds isn’t willing to order a statewide mask mandate, as the White House coronavirus task force recommends, then at least she should give local officials the authority to issue one for their counties or communities.

A recent spike in Iowa coronavirus cases is getting national attention. Consider:

(asterisk) Last Thursday, the state reported 1,477 new coronavirus cases, the most reported in one day since the virus arrived in Iowa.

(asterisk) On Saturday, the state’s 14-day rolling total of positive cases reached a record high of 11,091.

(asterisk) On Monday, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported 12 counties have a positivity rate of greater than 15 percent, a threshold at which schools may apply for a waiver to change to online-only learning (five counties have a positivity rate of more than 20 percent).

(asterisk) In a report published on Sunday, the White House coronavirus task force said Iowa’s new coronavirus cases per 100,000 population last week ranked highest in the country, almost triple the national average. Among its recommendations is a statewide mandate Iowans wear face masks in public.

A statewide order would be the most effective step for Reynolds to take in forcing more usage of face masks, but she’s opposed to the idea and as we write this we sense no inclination on her part to rethink her position.

At a minimum, we believe, Reynolds should respond to the recent flurry of troubling Iowa virus data by freeing local leaders to impose and enforce face mask requirements - something prohibited by the governor’s coronavirus public health proclamation.

A projection based on current fatality and infection rates by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine and issued last month said consistent nationwide usage of face masks could save some 70,000 lives over the next several months.

Whether statewide or local, face mask mandates with a promise of enforcement send that important message in stronger fashion than a recommendation for use too many Iowans ignore.