The governor wants to rely on local mask orders despite calls to take more decisive action.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey proved to be out of step with some fellow Republican governors during a Wednesday press briefing on COVID-19 safety measures. Despite pressure from national and local figures, Ducey once again avoided issuing a statewide order requiring masks in public.
“We’ve seen a lot of success with [masks] at the local level, where there is local buy-in and local leadership,” Ducey said at his first press briefing in three weeks. “And what I want to avoid is some of the division and politics that have happened around this issue.”
But over in the Midwest, another Republican governor decided to take more decisive action.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Monday reversed course after refusing for eight months to issue a mask requirement. Even as evidence piled up showing that they dramatically reduced the chances of transmitting and contracting COVID-19, Reynolds had held firm, criticizing masks as a “feel good” measure.
However, this week she announced that every Iowan above the age of 2 would have to wear a face covering indoors amid a catastrophic surge of COVID-19 cases in the state. “The pandemic in Iowa is the worst it has ever been,” Reynolds said. “No one wants to do this. I don’t want to do this.”
Reynolds is one of several governors taking more decisive action following the latest, worst, and most widespread surge of COVID-19. A record 73,000 people are currently hospitalized with the disease, according to the COVID Tracking Project, and the US documented a record 184,000 coronavirus cases on Friday, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, has recommended “uniform wearing of masks” to help slow the spread of the virus, telling CNN on Tuesday that “we need to intensify public health strategies,” such as wearing masks, washing hands, and avoiding places where people gather.
Sort Fact From Fiction: Sign up for COURIER’s Newsletter
The outbreak is particularly pronounced in Midwestern states like Iowa, which has recorded an average of over 4,200 cases per day over the past week, according to Johns Hopkins. A staggering 52% of COVID-19 tests in the state are coming back positive, meaning more than one in two Iowans tested has contracted the disease. Nearly 1,400 people are hospitalized in the state alone, up from about 700 at the beginning of the month, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
Reynolds’ order, which went into effect Tuesday morning and expires Dec. 10, is limited in scope, however. Her directive only requires masks be worn in indoor, public settings if the person will be within six feet of someone not in their household for 15 minutes or longer, the Des Moines Register reported. It also excludes people eating or drinking at bars and restaurants, people participating in religious services, and individuals with medical disabilities that prevent wearing face coverings.
The order also limits social gatherings to 15 or fewer people when indoors and 30 outdoors, and directs all bars and restaurants to end service by 10 p.m., while allowing takeout and drive-through service after that hour.
“If Iowans don’t buy into this, we lose,” Reynolds said. “Businesses will close once again, more schools will be forced to go online, and our health care system will fail.”
“The cost in human life will be high,” she added.
Reynolds is not the only Republican governor finally giving into science. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, who for months resisted issuing a mask mandate, issued an order requiring masks on Friday night for indoor business and public settings and outdoor locations where social distancing is not possible.
North Dakota has also set records for new cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks, and the state’s hospital system is being pushed to its breaking point, as medical workers fall sick and hospitals run out of room for patients. Things are so dire that Burgum announced last week that healthcare workers who tested positive for COVID-19, but were not showing symptoms, could keep treating patients in COVID-19 units, potentially putting their colleagues at risk.
Many other governors are also clamping down, including California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat who was among the first to issue a stay-at-home order in the spring when the first wave of cases overwhelmed the country. Newsom announced he was pulling the “emergency break” on efforts to reopen the economy, saying a continued surge in the state would lead to “catastrophic outcomes.” His move will shut down nonessential indoor businesses and require mask-wearing outside the home, with some exceptions.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued another stay-at-home order that went into effect Monday, while Washington Gov. Jay Inslee ordered gyms, movie theaters, bowling alleys, museums, and zoos to cease indoor operations.
RELATED: Masks Save Lives. These GOP Governors Are Letting Their Citizens Get Sick While Refusing to Admit It.
Some governors, however, have resisted and continued to balk at any such restrictions. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who has for months refused to institute strong public health protections, on Friday once again declined to institute a mask mandate. Noem said she would let South Dakotans exercise “personal responsibility,” rather than using her office to implement restrictions.
“It’s a good day for freedom,” Noem’s spokesperson Ian Fury told the Argus Leader in a statement Friday.
That “freedom,” however, has resulted in Noem’s state becoming one of the world’s worst coronavirus hotspots. South Dakota, with a small population of under 900,000 residents, is averaging over 1,400 new cases per day over the past week and leads the nation with a test positivity rate of 58%. For reference, Maine, which has a larger population, currently has a positivity rate of 2%.
Noem’s hands-off approach to the virus, which echoes that of President Donald Trump, has had devastating consequences in her state.
Jodi Doering, an emergency room nurse in South Dakota, said she’s had many patients who were dying of COVID-19 but still insisted the pandemic wasn’t real and that they must be sick for some other reason. These patients, Doering tweeted on Saturday, “call you names and ask why you have to wear all that “stuff” because they don’t have COViD because it’s not real.”
“These people really think this isn’t going to happen to them. And then they stop yelling at you when they get intubated,” she added. “It’s like a fucking horror movie that never ends. There’s no credits that roll. You just go back and do it all over again.”
Doering’s tweet went viral, leading to an interview with CNN on Monday, where she reiterated how difficult this denial was making things for both healthcare workers like her and for patients themselves.
“I think the hardest thing to watch is that people are still looking for something else and a magic answer and they do not want to believe COVID is real,” Doering told CNN. “Their last dying words are, ‘This can’t be happening. It’s not real.’”
The virus, of course, is real, and has claimed the lives of at least 247,000 Americans and infected about 11 million others.