‘Cusp of catastrophe:’ Iowa doctors call for statewide face mask mandate

DES MOINES – Standing on steps at the Iowa State Capitol grounds, socially distanced and wearing their white lab coats and face masks, roughly two dozen medical and public health professionals on Saturday morning reiterated their call for Gov. Kim Reynolds to require Iowans to wear face masks in public during the new coronavirus pandemic.

“Iowa is on the cusp of catastrophe. And we need to do everything we can do now to fight this pandemic before it turns even worse,” said Dr. Austin Baeth, an internal medicine doctor at UnityPoint Health in Des Moines.

The group held the news conference to draw attention to a letter – signed by more than 300 medical professionals in Iowa, including leaders of 16 Iowa health care organizations – that they sent to Reynolds, imploring her to issue a mandate that Iowans wear face masks while in public.

Public health and infectious disease experts are in near unanimous agreement, and multiple studies have verified that face coverings are effective in slowing the spread of the coronavirus. 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 in public, and Reynolds has organized a public information campaign encouraging Iowans to wear masks in public.

But Reynolds has resisted a mask mandate, in part because she said it would be difficult to enforce. She also said earlier this week, when asked why she will not issue a mandate despite the advice of experts who say masks work, “But there’s people that would tell you just the opposite.”

Those people were not at the Iowa Capitol on Saturday morning.

“The scientific evidence is now convincing: face masks work,” Baeth said. “There is science behind our recommendations. This is not politics. In fact, in my opinion there should be no room for politics when we’re discussing how to beat this disease.”

Baeth addressed the pushback from some who claim that a face mask mandate would violate a person’s freedoms. He noted that research shows the virus can be spread by people who are infected but may not be aware because they are not showing symptoms.

He compared a mask mandate to impaired driving laws, in that they instruct a person how to behave in public in order to protect other people’s lives.

“We acknowledge concerns that a mask mandate might appear to be in opposition of the personal freedoms enjoyed by Iowans,” Baeth said. “We contend, however, that due to the unfortunate prevalence of asymptomatic viral transmission, individuals who choose not to wear a mask endanger the personal freedoms of others. They do so by imperiling their life.”

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.

As of Saturday morning, nearly 45,000 Iowans had contracted the new coronavirus, and 872 Iowans had died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

“For (wearing face masks) to work, we need for everyone to adhere to it,” said Dr. Rossana Rosa, an infectious diseases physician at UnityPoint Health in Des Moines. “And a mandate from the governor is the most expedient way for us to get to that goal.”


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