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Iowa mothers urge reversal of state mask mandate prohibition

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A group of Iowa mothers of young school-age children held a rally and sit-in at the Iowa Capitol on Wednesday pushing Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds to issue an executive order reversing a state law that prohibits school boards from implementing mask requirements in schools.

The parents were among about 150 people to attend the event along with some physicians expressing concern that children will attend classes at schools with little protection since masks cannot be required and children under 12 cannot get a vaccination.

“Any community can become the next hotspot. Why tie the hands of our local public health officials, our school administrators, our parents who just want to keep our kids and everyone else safe?” said Dr. Austin Baeth, an internal medicine physician in Des Moines.

Republican lawmakers passed a bill in May that prohibited school boards and other local officials from mandating mask wearing.

Organizers of the event hope Reynolds could be convinced like Arkansas Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson who has called the majority-GOP Legislature back into session to take up the change to a state law he signed in April prohibiting mask mandates by schools and other governmental bodies.

Reynolds showed no signs of budging.

“Parental control is local control and parents have the option to send their kids to school with a mask or not. As I have throughout this pandemic, I trust Iowans to do the right thing and make the decisions about what’s best for themselves and their family,” she said in a statement.

The issue has become a political hot-button issue between Republican conservatives who say it’s a personal freedom and liberty issue and Democrats who support the scientific evidence that masks help stop virus spread.

Iowa averages about 600 cases of COVID a day, the highest number since mid-February. The incidence of new cases increased by 167% in the last 14 days. Hospitalizations have increased in recent weeks. State public health officials said 6,193 people have died in Iowa.

Infectious disease physician and public health researcher Dr. Megan Srinivas cited the American Academy of Pediatrics data that indicated 94,000 children have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past week in the United States, a rate six times higher than the number of weekly cases a month ago. She said cases in children are exponentially increasing each week even before schools have started in many states. The more the delta virus is allowed to circulate the more it can develop new variants that may be worse, she said.

“This virus is evolving in front of our eyes and if we don’t put a stop to it, it we will be far worse position that is much scarier than we have right now,” she said.

The mask ban has become increasingly a concern of Iowa parents of young children as the beginning of the school year approaches within the next two weeks for many districts and as most Iowa counties have seen virus activity increase.

As of Wednesday 91 of Iowa’s 99 counties are in the high or substantial rate of spread, a rate at which the CDC recommends masks in indoor public settings. The remaining eight counties have moderate rate of spread.

Vaccinations in Iowa have slowed in the past several weeks with 50.1% of Iowans fully vaccinated, placing Iowa 21st in the nation.

Dr. Keri Althoff, an epidemiologist and associate professor at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health said more children are becoming infected by COVID because the more infectious virus is attacking the unvaccinated and anyone under age 12 doesn’t yet qualify for vaccination making them a highly susceptible population for infection. Higher numbers of infections lead to more hospitalizations which is why more children are in hospitals. It’s not yet clear whether the delta variant causes more severe infections in children, she said.

It should, however, change the thinking of anyone who has been hesitant to get a vaccine.

“The delta variant has changed this war so you have to re-examine your thoughts and your decision-making about your vaccination status when something like this happens,” she said.