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Iowa governor lashes back at Biden threat of action on masks

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states including Iowa that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19.

Reynolds in May signed a law that Republican legislators sent her that bans local school boards from implementing mask mandates. Several other Republican governors, including those in Arizona, Florida, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah, have similar policies that Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said could amount to discrimination if they lead to unsafe conditions that prevent students from attending school.

Cardona sent a letter to Reynolds on Wednesday that informed her that her actions “may infringe upon a school district’s authority to adopt policies to protect students and educators.”

Reynolds, who was a Donald Trump supporter, reacted angrily toward Biden when asked about the letter by reporters on Thursday.

“I think it’s incredible that he’s coming after me when we led the country in getting our kids back in school, doing it safely and responsibly. We’ve done that from the beginning where he just basically paid lip service to children all across this country while kowtowing to the teacher’s union.”

Reynolds has frequently questioned the effectiveness of masks and again Thursday asked, “Where’s the data that the CDC is using to justify the mask mandate?”

The CDC offers numerous studies on its website that it says confirm the benefit of universal masking to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Reynolds’ anti-mask policy was also challenged by the Trump administration last October when the White House Coronavirus Task Force warned her that Iowans were suffering “many preventable deaths” because she refused to impose mask requirements.

She said she will fight the federal government in court if need be.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says masks should be worn in public indoor settings even by people who are vaccinated the slow the spread of the coronavirus delta variant.

Senate Democratic Leader Zach Wahls blamed Republicans for politicizing mask wearing, saying it has contributed to the unabated spread of the delta variant in Iowa.

“Governor Reynolds – forcing unvaccinated children back to school isn’t a plan. Continuing to ignore COVID isn’t a plan. Hoping that the Delta variant just goes away isn’t a plan. It’s reckless, it’s dangerous, and it’s putting untold numbers of children, parents, educators, and other staff at severe risk,” he said.

Iowa school officials are struggling with a spreading virus and the inability to fight it with masks or in many cases social distancing in classrooms.

The Des Moines school district on Wednesday closed its administrative building and a training center due to a number of people testing positive for COVID a week before the school year starts.

State public health officials said Wednesday in the weekly coronavirus update that 16 additional deaths in the past week for a total of 6,226 confirmed deaths in Iowa. Nearly 5,700 new cases were reported in the past week and the seven-day moving average of cases is 813, the highest number since early February. All but one of Iowa’s 99 counties now has either a high or substantial rate of spread, the CDC said.

Iowa has slipped to 23rd in the nation for percentage of the population fully vaccinated at 50.7%.