Gov. Reynolds has a cart-before-horse problem. First: Order masks to reduce virus spread. Then open schools.
Reynolds recently held a news conference and signed a proclamation intended to push Iowa schools to reopen for in-person classes this fall. She clearly thinks that is important.
But it is not the most important thing to focus on at this point in an infectious disease pandemic.
Iowa needs to reduce transmission of the novel coronavirus and get the positive case count down before schools can safely opened. The best way to do that: Nearly everyone should wear a mask in public.
And the best way to ensure compliance: The governor needs to require it. More than half the states have statewide requirements, according to AARP, and many that don’t have at least localized mandates.
Her failure to lead on this issue — she insists that only encouragement of mask wearing is warranted — is mind-boggling. Worse, she apparently doesn’t want others to lead, either.
After the Muscatine mayor imposed a mask mandate in her city to try to prevent viral transmission, Reynolds should have commended her. Instead the governor said the mandate was “not in effect” because it wasn’t approved by the state.
So much for the “local control” some conservative leaders claim to value.
But we are holding out hope that Reynolds is willing to learn as scientists conduct research and reveal new findings. The science on masks is piling up, showing they are among the best weapons to fight transmission of the virus.
Reynolds should read a recent editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association co-authored by Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and an appointee of President Donald Trump. It cites a newly published study suggesting universal use of surgical masks helped reduce confirmed infections in a hospital.
“Community-level protection afforded by use of cloth face coverings can reduce the number of new infections and facilitate cautious easing of more societally disruptive community interventions such as stay-at-home orders and business closings,” the authors write.
Translation: If political leaders want to open up things, including schools, people need to wear masks.
In one recent study, Florida Atlantic University researchers simulated a cough using a mannequin, air compressor and smoke generator. They tested three masks and found homemade stitched masks with two layers of cotton quilting fabric were the most effective for reducing the spread of droplets.
With that type of mask on, droplets traveled only 2.5 inches. With a folded handkerchief, droplets traveled 15 inches. With a bandanna, they traveled 43 inches. With no mask, droplets traveled an average of 8 feet, farther than the 6 feet we are being advised to distance from others.
The CDC this month cited the benefits of wearing masks at a Missouri hair salon where two workers served 139 clients before testing positive. Both wore masks and nearly all clients said they wore them, too. Contact tracing found none of the customers reported symptoms, and those tested were negative for COVID-19.
Masks reduce transmission of the virus. Combined with social distancing and sanitizing, they can help provide the safety and confidence we all need before being asked to return to normal activities.
Requiring masks is what Iowa’s governor should focus on — before she insists on reopening schools.
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