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Reynolds defends lack of mask mandate
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Reynolds defends lack of mask mandate

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DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds on Thursday said while scientists say face masks slow the spread of coronavirus, some people “would tell you just the opposite.”

Reynolds made the comment as she defended her decision not to mandate all Iowans wear face masks in public.

When a reporter noted scientists agree face masks work to slow the spread of the virus, Reynolds responded, “But there’s people that would tell you just the opposite.”

Public health and infectious disease experts are in near unanimous agreement that face coverings are effective in slowing the spread of the coronavirus, a fact verified by multiple studies.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization recommend individuals wear face masks in public. Iowa’s public health department also recommends face masks for Iowans when they are unable to remain at least six feet away from others.

“Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus — particularly when used universally within a community setting,” federal CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield said recently.

On Wednesday, 300 Iowa doctors signed a letter urging Reynolds to issue a statewide mask mandate. On Thursday, the Iowa chapter of the American College of Physicians sent a statement to the governor calling for masks to be worn in community settings. Black Hawk County Health Department director Nafissa Cisse Egbuonye was among the signatories.

Face masks are required in public or for certain workers in 42 states, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization that monitors federal and states’ health care policy. Iowa is not among them.

Reynolds has consistently promoted state public health department guidance that Iowans should wear face masks when they are in public and come within six feet of other people. Her administration recently started a public campaign urging Iowans to wear masks, and she reiterated the recommendation Thursday.

But Reynolds has stopped requiring face masks in public. She says a mandate would be difficult to enforce and suggested some states with mask mandates have still seen increases in coronavirus cases.

However, a study published in June determined U.S. states that have mandated the use of face masks experienced a greater decline in daily coronavirus cases compared with states without a mandate.

And a CDC study found a mask mandate was “likely a contributing factor” in preventing spread of the virus in a Missouri hair salon where two stylists were infected with the virus but did not transmit it to any of their customers.

Reynolds said Thursday she believes most Iowans are wearing face masks in public, even without a mandate.

“All along we’ve said if you can’t social distance, wear a mask. We know that those are two things that can help slow the spread and have an impact on COVID-19 in our state. I believe that Iowans are doing the right thing, and I’m doing it through a PR campaign,” Reynolds said. “There’s not a silver bullet. There’s not a single answer.”

Statewide, Iowa’s coronavirus cases have surged back to near the state’s May peak. Deaths and hospitalizations also have been climbing, albeit more gradually than cases.

As of Thursday afternoon, more than 44,000 Iowans had contracted the virus and 857 Iowans have died of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, since the pandemic first arrived in early March.

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