As the more transmissible Delta variant causes COVID-19 cases to rise in all 50 states, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control changed its guidance for fully vaccinated individuals on July 27. The CDC now recommends that they “wear a mask indoors in public” in areas “of substantial or high transmission.” In addition, anyone living with unvaccinated or immunocompromised household members, or those at higher risk of severe disease, “might choose to wear a mask regardless of the level of transmission.”
Despite having no science background, Governor Kim Reynolds bashed the new guidance as “not grounded in reality or common sense.” Only a few hours earlier, she had absurdly suggested that immigrants entering Texas might be to blame for accelerating community spread of COVID-19.
“THE TRENDS ARE NOT GOOD”
The CDC advised Americans in May that fully vaccinated people did not need to wear face coverings or practice social distancing in most indoor or outdoor settings, citing “the continuing downward trajectory of cases” as well as “the scientific data on the performance of our vaccines and our understanding of how the virus spreads.”
A growing body of evidence informed today’s shift, Yasmeen Abutaleb, Joel Achenbach, Dan Diamond, and Adam Taylor reported for the Washington Post.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the changes were spurred by “worrisome” new data showing that vaccinated and unvaccinated people infected by the delta variant carry viral loads that “are actually quite similar.” That suggests that some vaccinated people “may be contagious and spread the virus to others” even though they are unlikely to become severely ill because of the vaccines’ protection. Such transmission did not happen in any significant way with earlier strains. […]
News of the CDC’s changed guidance was welcomed by medical and public health experts many of whom had sought greater restrictions. People infected with the delta variant appear to carry a viral load that is 1,000 times higher than earlier versions of the virus, they said, and can easily spread it. […]
Natalie Dean, a biostatistician at Emory University, noted that the picture in the United States has changed significantly in recent weeks.
“Things were going all right for a little bit. … Now it’s like, well, what are we doing here? The trends are not good,” she said, adding: “The situation has evolved. Literally.”
Leading medical and public health organizations in Iowa expressed support for the new guidance. Dozens of Iowa counties are experiencing “substantial” or “high” COVID-19 transmission, according to CDC data that is about ten days old.
State officials have talked a good game about adapting their pandemic response to changing circumstances. But the governor didn’t acknowledge any legitimate basis for the CDC’s latest advice.
ALL EGGS IN ONE BASKET
Once upon a time, Republican insiders depicted Reynolds as someone who “studies really hard” and devours “extensive briefing material” to be better informed. That supposed penchant for intense research was nowhere to be seen during the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor preferred to stick with comfortable talking points, and her administration ignored input from Iowa’s top public health experts as well as strongly-worded advice from the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
The July 27 news release from the governor’s office depicted the CDC’s action as a political ploy, designed to promote “unnecessary government mandates.”
The Biden Administration’s new COVID-19 guidance telling fully vaccinated Iowans to now wear masks is not only counterproductive to our vaccination efforts, but also not grounded in reality or common sense. I’m concerned that this guidance will be used as a vehicle to mandate masks in states and schools across the country, something I do not support.
The vaccine remains our strongest tool to combat COVID-19, which is why we are going to continue to encourage everyone to get the vaccine.
I am proud that we recently put new laws in place that will protect Iowans against unnecessary government mandates in our schools and local governments. As I have throughout this pandemic, I trust Iowans to do the right thing.
But why would you stick with a one-dimensional COVID-19 mitigation strategy when a large share of the population has no intention of being vaccinated? Demand for coronavirus vaccines is down more than 90 percent from early April, to the point where the state may soon need to throw out tens of thousands of expiring doses.
Even the most vaccinated Iowa communities are below the level needed for “herd immunity.” In most counties, fewer than half of residents have received a vaccine.
Reynolds has rejected financial incentives to encourage higher vaccination rates, though some Iowa counties have offered cash or other prizes. In early June, the governor said “We’re still doing everything we can” to promote vaccinations, and “if we need to do something different, we can assess and do that.”
Nearly eight weeks later, Reynolds hasn’t come up with “something different” to increase the pace of vaccinations. But she did land on a new excuse for Iowa’s worsening trends.
IMMIGRANTS AS NEW SCAPEGOAT FOR VIRUS SPREAD?
Katie Akin reported for Iowa Capital Dispatch on the governor’s deflection as she fielded questions on July 27.
In response to a question about the state’s COVID-19 data reporting, Reynolds said she received daily updates on the pandemic and would “adjust as necessary” to the delta variant. She touted the state’s 61% vaccination rate for adults. Reynolds then switched gears, telling reporters she was concerned that migrants crossing the border were unvaccinated and traveling around the country.
“As they’re trying to impact additional restrictions on Americans, we’ve got people coming across the border that haven’t been vaccinated, and so that’s also something we need to continue to look at,” Reynolds said.
Pat Garrett, spokesperson for the governor’s office, provided a link after the event to a July Fox News report that COVID-19 cases surged among detained immigrants at the Texas border.
Stephen Gruber-Miller included a longer quote in his story for the Des Moines Register.
“Part of the problem is the southern border is open and we’ve got 88 countries that are coming across the border and they don’t have vaccines so none of them are vaccinated and they’re getting dispersed throughout the country,” Reynolds told reporters Tuesday.
Reynolds surely knows that unvaccinated residents, not migrants from other countries, are fueling sharp increases in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations in Iowa and elsewhere. Stirring up animus toward immigrants in this context is pure political cynicism.
Hundreds of thousands of unvaccinated children will be in close proximity to one another on a daily basis when Iowa schools reopen in less than a month. Although the CDC recommends “universal masking for all teachers, staff members and students in schools, regardless of their vaccination status,” I expect minimal mask wearing in the vast majority of Iowa schools. The governor aligned herself with anti-mask activists when she rushed to sign a law banning local or school district mask mandates under any circumstances.
Governor Reynolds with Kimberly Reicks (left) and Emily Peterson at the May 20 bill signing
By the way, those anti-maskers also discourage Iowans from getting COVID-19 vaccines. Don’t hold your breath waiting for Reynolds to issue a statement saying their stance is “not grounded in reality or common sense.”
P.S.- Asked whether the Iowa Department of Public Health pandemic response team agrees with the governor that there are never any circumstances when it might be advisable for fully vaccinated people to wear masks, the agency’s spokesperson Sarah Ekstrand did not answer the question but told Bleeding Heartland via email,
IDPH has always emphasized the importance of using the tools available to protect Iowans from the spread of the COVID-19 virus, including masks, hand washing and social distancing. The vaccine is currently the best tool to protect yourself and prevent the spread of COVID-19 and we continue to encourage all Iowans to get vaccinated.
The agency has sometimes abandoned CDC guidance, even as it claims to follow it, and recently scaled back the publicly available data on COVID-19 in Iowa.