Gov. Kim Reynolds June 30

Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks at a news conference at Pine Lake Processors in Steamboat Rock Tuesday. (Iowa Capital Dispatch photo)

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds declined Tuesday to pressure school districts to require students and staff to wear face masks.

She also pledged to fight a court challenge to a just-signed bill requiring a 24-hour waiting period for abortions, and said the state stands ready to act if COVID-19 infection rates spike again. 

Reynolds spoke at a news conference at an ethanol plant in Steamboat Rock.

School districts: No order on masks

Reynolds said it be up to each school district to decide whether students and teacher should wear masks when in-person classes resume this fall. The state last week issued guidelines recommending against mandatory mask-wearing for all students and staff.  Reynolds said a new set of guidelines issued this week by state education and health officials will give districts information they will need to consider changes if the number of COVID-19 cases spike. 

That information covers what types of masks to consider, how to launder them, and possible scenarios for group activities, Reynolds said.

“What do you do during lunch snack time?” Reynolds asked, as an  example. “There’s just a lot of things they need to consider and there’s a lot of guidance (in the state documents) they can utilize when making the decision so they’re doing it appropriately and accurately and they’re just really walking through what that process looks like.”

Masks became a contentious issue during the interrupted session of the Iowa Legislature. When the session resumed well into the pandemic, many Democrats wore masks and some wore masks and face shields, which federal health officials say especially help guard against infecting others. Republican lawmakers tended to not wear either.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention didn’t push most Americans to wear masks when the pandemic started, fearing shortages at hospitals and clinics. Later, when supplies improved, the agency recommended people wear masks in public to protect themselves and others.

During her remarks, Reynolds and her featured guests stood shoulder-to-shoulder. None wore a mask, something that set off a string of critical comments on Facebook. Among them were Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg, House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford; state Sen. Randy Feenstra, R-Hull; state Sen. Annette Sweeney, R-Alden, and Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig. None wore a mask, something that set off a string of critical comments on Facebook.

Changes in state data on recovery

Reynolds said the state is changing how it counts the number of people who have recovered from the coronavirus. The governor said the state previously had not counted as recovered those who didn’t answer messages from state health investigators following up on positive cases, and the recovery rate stood at 62%.

Now, any case in which that happens will be counted as recovered after 28 days, which is equal to two incubation cycles for the virus. Using that approach, almost 80% of Iowans who have tested positive have recovered, Reynolds said. 

Abortion waiting period

Reynolds was asked to respond to a court challenge over new legislation, which she signed, requiring a 24-hour waiting period for abortions. Courts have thrown out similar bills asking for longer waiting periods.

“I will do everything I can to protect life,” said Reynolds. I believe in this piece of legislation. We are going to work vigorously to defend it with the assistance of the attorney general’s office.”

COVID-19 response

Reynolds said she has been encouraged by a drop in hospitalizations, deaths, and the rate of positive cases in Iowa recently. But she added with the Fourth of July holiday looming, Iowans need to continue to keep their distance, wash their hands, and wear masks when close to others. 

“COVID, as you know, is not over,” Reynold said. “It is still in our communities, so we need to do our part to contain and manage it, and it replies to every Iowan regardless of age. So as this week marks the Fourth of July, I’m asking Iowans to enjoy the holidays safely and responsibly, because there really are no days off for COVID-19. “