Iowa physician groups urge governor to order public to wear masks
Groups representing thousands of Iowa physicians and other medical professionals urged Gov. Kim Reynolds on Monday to require mask-wearing to help rein in the coronavirus and the deadly disease it causes.
"Consistent, widespread use of cloth masks in public settings will dramatically slow the spread of COVID-19 and save lives," the Iowa Medical Society and 14 other health-professional groups said Monday in a letter to the governor.
The letter represented an unusual consensus among Iowa medical professionals on a controversial topic. It added pressure on Reynolds to join more than half of other governors in ordering residents to wear masks in public.
Until recently, Reynolds regularly appeared near other people in public places without wearing a mask. She endorsed the Iowa Department of Public Health's "mask up" campaign last week, but has said cities and counties lack the authority to invoke their own mask mandates without her permission.
Her spokesman, Pat Garrett, said Monday that her stance hasn't changed.
"Gov. Reynolds encourages Iowans who are interacting with others where social distancing is impossible to wear masks. But she does not believe a governmental mask mandate is appropriate," he wrote in an email to the Des Moines Register.
The health professionals' letter noted that after seeing a June decline in coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths, Iowa is now seeing a resurgence, including in nursing homes. By Monday, the state had recorded 829 deaths from COVID-19, and hospitalizations due to it have more than doubled in Iowa since June.
Requiring masks now could increase safety while Iowans continue to take steps toward normal life, the medical professionals' letter says.
"A statewide mask order is the surest way to ensure that our schools, businesses, and health care facilities are able to reopen and stay open, and that our medical practices are able to continue to offer a full array of care for Iowa patients."
The Iowa Medical Society represents more than 6,000 physicians and medical students. This spring, it urged Reynolds to join many other governors in invoking a shelter-in-place order to stem the epidemic. The medical society's stance on that issue was seconded by the Iowa Board of Medicine, whose members are appointed by the governor to regulate health care. But Reynolds declined to follow their recommendation.
The Iowa Board of Medicine did not sign Monday's letter seeking a mask mandate. But the signatories include the presidents of organizations representing family doctors, pediatricians, emergency physicians, medical examiners, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and pharmacists.
Iowa Medical Society President Brian Privett, a Cedar Rapids eye surgeon, said he can't recall another time when so many health care associations signed on to such a strong letter. "We all view COVID through the same lens," he said in an interview.
Doctors and their colleagues have seen firsthand how devastating COVID-19 can be, he said. He added that he and his colleagues appreciate how Reynolds and other leaders are encouraging mask use.
"But what we're seeing is it's just not working," he said. The pandemic's resurgence requires a new round of precautions, he said.
Privett acknowledged that a mandate would be tough to enforce, but he said such a requirement from the governor would underscore how important it is to wear a mask to prevent transmission of the virus. At this point, he said, many patients still seem unsure whether masks really help.
"There's a lot of confusion and misinformation out there," he said.
Last week, the Iowa Public Health Association and Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, who was Iowa's state epidemiologist for 24 years before retiring in 2018, made similar calls for a mask mandate.
Tony Leys covers health care for the Register. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 515-284-8449.
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