Post #893: Iowa governor implements mask mandate, and she did it before Iowa hospitals ran out of beds.

Posted on November 17, 2020

This morning I see that the Governor of Iowa has issued a mask mandate.  After some research, I found one thing about this change that is absolutely exceptional.  She did this, as far as I can tell, even though Iowa has not yet run out of hospital or ICU beds. 

That makes the governor of Iowa exceptionally forward-thinking relative to her Republican peers (see Post #890), for whom the norm is to act only when their hospital system has reached capacity.  For example, we have yet to see movement toward a mask mandate in South Dakota, which has far higher new infection rates than Iowa, and appears to have a similar level of slack in their hospital system at the moment.

But otherwise, the Iowa mask mandate fits the standard pattern for Republican governors (with apologies to cousin Larry).  Let’s see that this ticks all the boxes.

Freely and publicly disparaged mask used within the past month.  Check.  The governor of Iowa apparently called face masks a “feel good measure”.

All of that history goes down the memory hole, with no mention of it, let alone any apology for it.  Check.

Grudgingly implemented a weak mask order.  Check.  This one applies if you are indoors and will be at less-than-six-foot-distance from others for 15 minutes or more.  So, it doesn’t really apply to (e.g.) just going to the store, I guess.  And more-or-less any venue that can maintain six-foot distancing remains open.

Limited duration, as if this is all going to be over in a couple of weeks.  Check.  This one lasts just over three weeks, to December 10.  That’s the shortest I’ve seen so far.  And the clearest exercise in wishful thinking.

No means of enforcement.  Check.  Near as I can tell, the only entity mentioned was the Iowa Department of Public Health.  So, as with Virginia’s initial mask mandates, any enforcement would be on establishments (such as bars), not individuals.  For sure, there is no mention of penalties or fines for failure to comply.

Exempted any sort of religious service.  Check.

Included all the usual suspects such as closing restaurants and bars early, limiting the number of people in gatherings, and so on.  Check.

In a novel twist, high school and college sports are exempted.  In fact, pretty much every activity you can think of may continue, as long as people are six feet apart.

Those points are based on reporting in today’s Washington Post and a local Iowa news agency., as well as the proclamation itself.  You can read that here (.pdf).

As crazy as this sounds, I just don’t think they’re taking this very seriously yet.  What stands out clearly is the total lack of acknowledgement that aerosol spread might occur.  For example, you can still go to the gym and (e.g.) work out on a treadmill, so long as your treadmill is at least six feet away from the next one.

I mean, I guess this is better than nothing.  But if I were to follow those rules, here, I’d never wear a mask anywhere.  I can get all my shopping done without standing within six feet of another customer for 15 minutes or more.  Near as I can tell, in Virginia, these rules would amount to not having a mask mandate.  Add in a high level of non-compliance with what little restrictions this embodies, and it’s hard to imagine this could have much material effect.

And so, you come back to the question of what it will take, to make these folks take this seriously.  If ever.  And I come back to the same answer:  Bodies stacked in refrigerated trailers (Post #888).  So for the time being, all I can do is keep an eye out for the first failure of that criterion.

In the meantime, I guess I need to write up the relationship between humidity and flu season in temperate climates.  Again.  Because it sure seems like either all of the modern scholarly literature is wrong, or people are just plain ignoring what’s in front of their faces:  Low humidity + low mask use is now a recipe for disaster.  A public policy encouraging humidifier use (shooting for minimum 40% relative humidity indoors) might be as effective as a mask policy.  Particularly if Iowa is an example of the sort of mask policy that we can expect to see in the coming weeks.