Iowans deserve more transparency to help stop COVID-19

Democratic State Senator Janet Petersen is the Iowa Senate minority leader. -promoted by Laura Belin

When trouble hits our state, Iowans want leaders who talk straight and make sure all Iowans can be part of the solution.

That’s true when we are helping fellow Iowans recover from flooding, tornados and other natural disasters. And it’s certainly true of our efforts to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.

If we are not all pulling in the same direction, that hurts everyone.

Last fall, I had a conversation with a member of Governor Kim Reynolds’ team, who was refusing to invite lawmakers to attend the department’s Maternal Health Summit to discuss such dangerous trends as labor and delivery departments shuttering across the state at record speed. I reminded him, “You are the Department of Public Health, not the Department of Private Health.”

Like many Iowans, I was frustrated. I could see our health care infrastructure crumbling, and the Reynolds administration was continuing its alarming pattern of not sharing information.

Since the for-profit privatized Medicaid program began, Iowa’s health care infrastructure has taken a beating. Iowa’s nursing homes, rural hospitals, ambulance services and public transportation services, and mental health providers were already financially reeling before COVID-19 crossed our state’s borders.

The onset of this pandemic was like pouring lighter fluid on Iowa’s financially-shaky health care system. In this perfect storm, the virus could trigger a wider health care disaster.

It’s impacted our everyday lives, our jobs, our paychecks, our education, and our future. It’s gone from being a public health crisis to a full-blown economic crisis, too.

Fortunately, Iowans want to be part of the solution. That requires more Iowans knowing what is going on. We deserve straightforward leadership that includes timely, accurate data, and clear directions.

Iowa should take lessons from state leaders who are doing things right.

Governors who have been clear in their message and have had tough conversations with the people they represent about what to do to beat the virus are seeing better results. Most important, they’ve acted quickly to save lives, knowing that time matters.

Leaders shouldn’t keep people in the dark. There is no reason to withhold knowledge of COVID-19 cases from Iowans who share the same living space or workspace with those infected. Iowa families with relatives in nursing facilities and meatpacking plants deserve to know immediately if their loved ones are being exposed.

Iowans are frustrated that Governor Reynolds is basing her decision-making on a “mystery model” instead of the scientific modeling that other states are using, especially when they are seeing better results elsewhere.

Iowans deserve to know the governor’s plan for testing. The lack of widespread testing may give some a false belief that COVID-19 is not going to hit our state as hard as it has hit other states. The truth is that the continued lack of widespread testing and contact tracing puts us at greater risk than states with more aggressive testing measures.

Our continued shortage of personal protective equipment should have more Iowans sounding the alarm because it’s putting our front-line workforce in danger.

Overcoming the COVID-19 crisis will not be simple, but we can get there sooner with bold leadership, better information, and more confidence that everything possible is being done to protect the health and safety of all Iowans.

Iowans want to be part of the solution. We want to help our frontline workforce. We want to protect our friends and neighbors. Most important, we want more sunshine, especially from Governor Reynolds and her team.

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  • A very good post, thank you Senator

    As pointed out above, the current pandemic did not begin the pattern of secrecy in the Reynolds administration. But the pandemic has increased the secrecy and brought it to the attention of more Iowans. “Mystery model” is unfortunately a good descriptor not only for Reynolds’ COVID-19 metrics, but often for Reynolds policy-making in general.

    And that secrecy is reaching strange levels. Did the Reynolds administration really think that journalists would not find out that Iowa declined to join other Upper Midwest states in deciding how to reopen? What was the point in refusing to answer that question?

    To other Iowans I’ve talked with, the secrecy feels insulting as well as dangerous, especially when the Reynolds administration denies there is secrecy. The very crude old saying that comes to mind is, “Don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining.”