COVID BARNSTORMS IOWA — A year ago, the nation looked to Iowa to watch presidential candidates eating fried food on a stick at the state fair. Now, the local news is even bleaker.
Iowa is one of seven states, mostly in the Midwest, that Anthony Fauci said needs to be on high alert this Labor Day weekend. Fauci warned of rising positivity rates in the region, telling Bloomberg that the region’s Covid numbers are “predictive that there’s going to be a problem.”
The White House coronavirus task force has recommended that state officials close bars in 61 of Iowa’s 99 counties; test all college students returning to campus; and issue a statewide mask mandate, warning that the state has the country’s highest infection rates.
Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds has so far rejected these suggestions.
In just two weeks, Iowa has added more than 10,000 cases to its total case count and reported more than 850 new cases today.
Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie mandated masks in his city last week. Nightly talked with Cownie, a Democrat, about managing a city in the nation’s new hotspot. This conversation has been edited.
Gov. Reynolds closed bars in six counties. Do you think she should close more?
Absolutely. And she should hopefully follow our lead and issue a statewide mask mandate.
We have people who come into Des Moines from all around the state, and if they come in from an area that hasn’t received this emergency notification, they say, What’s going on here? Why are you wearing a mask?
I’m hearing from friends in other states — they don’t want to particularly see a bunch of people from Iowa at the moment, coming into their areas without quarantining for a period of time to make sure they don’t have it.
How are you enforcing your city’s mask mandate?
What we’re trying to do is not be punitive. I mean, it could be a civil violation and hand out a monetary ticket. But we start out by saying: Hey you’re in violation, there’s a mask mandate, here’s a mask. We’re handing out masks. Wear it.
Reynolds didn’t rule out raising the drinking age for young people as a way to curb the spread. How do you feel about that?
I’m not quite sure what she’s talking about. Is she talking about raising it to 30 or what?
What a lot of people are seeing in some of these areas where people congregate to be entertained after work, we see a lot of people — I’d say mid-20s, maybe 30, seem to be the ones who are out doing it. At least up until a weekend or so ago, a lot of them were not wearing masks at all and getting into these pretty confined places.
Are you concerned about K-12 students going back to the classroom?
Our school district would prefer, until we get a handle on this and get this surge tamped down, to not even meet in person. Des Moines Public Schools is in a lawsuit with the Iowa Department of Education over that, because the governor’s mandate is they have to be in class at least 50 percent of the time, in-person. And if they’re not, there’s a threat that their funds are going to get cut, and they’re not going to acknowledge credit for any of the classes they take.
What would you say to those who think Covid is just going to go away?
There’s three quick things, in nine words: Wear a mask. Wear a mask. Wear a mask.
I hate to say it, but this is an IQ test, get with it.
WITHOUT A TRACE — Large numbers of Covid-19 patients are refusing to tell public health workers who they’ve had contact with, thwarting state efforts to slow disease spread at a fragile turnaround in the pandemic. Contact tracing data provided to POLITICO shows more than three-quarters of people interviewed in states with high infection rates, like California and Louisiana, refused to cooperate with efforts to identify relatives or acquaintances who may have been exposed to the disease.
Tracing programs, paired with expansive testing, have been credited with controlling the spread of Covid-19 in some countries, including South Korea and New Zealand, health care reporters Alice Miranda Ollstein and Darius Tahir write. But state officials and public health experts say U.S. efforts have been undercut by the Trump administration’s failure to advocate for tracing. Conspiracy theories linking interviews to government plots to set up surveillance cameras and gun confiscations haven’t helped.
That lingering distrust could hinder immunization programs once a Covid-19 vaccine is found. “We’ve had people worry that we’re the FBI or other government agencies,” said Kirstin Short, the bureau chief of epidemiology at the Houston Health Department.
POLITICO requested detailed tracing data from every state. A total of 14 states and New York City supplied results, showing widespread public reluctance to participate in disease tracking. Only a few, including Massachusetts and Vermont, have persuaded the majority of their Covid-positive residents to reveal whom they may have infected.
BEATING BACK THE RESURGENCE — Earlier this summer, Covid cases were dropping and states started reopening. Weeks later, there was a resurgence. In the latest POLITICO Dispatch, health care reporters Dan Goldberg and Dan Diamond explain how the Trump administration is looking at a repeat of that situation — just two months ahead of the election.
EVICTION WARNING SIGNS — The Trump administration’s new nationwide ban on the eviction of tenants and congressional inaction on rental aid are putting the “stability of the entire rental housing sector in danger,” a coalition of a dozen housing industry groups warned today. Facing a potential wave of evictions during the worst economic shock since the Great Depression, the White House rolled out a new moratorium on eviction Tuesday for nonpayment of rent through the end of the year.
But the policy includes no funding for rental assistance — leaving landlords in the lurch while merely delaying evictions for tenants who cannot come up with the funds to pay back rent when the moratorium expires, financial services reporter Katy O’Donnell writes. “Without rental assistance, the real estate industry is being mandated to shoulder an unrecoverable financial burden that could lead to the greatest rental housing crisis of our lifetime,” the group of organizations representing both for-profit and nonprofit rental housing providers wrote to Congressional leaders today.
Powerful industry representatives — including the National Association of Realtors, the National Association of Homebuilders and the Mortgage Bankers Association — signed the letter, which was copied to administration officials. The ban “will ultimately harm the very people it aims to help,” they wrote. “It will be impossible for housing providers, particularly small owners, to meet their financial obligations and continue to provide shelter to their residents. Furthermore, it saddles renters with an unmanageable amount of debt due to months of unpaid rent, potentially dating back to March.”
Nightly asks you: Send us pictures of your Covid-19 work or study space. Send your photo to [email protected]. We’ll include select photos in our Friday edition.
ZOOM ROOM — Eugene Daniels, Tim Alberta, Ryan Lizza and Laura Barrón-López discuss the “death march towards November,” how protests and Covid will affect the presidential race and the politics surrounding Kenosha, Wis., shooting suspect Kyle Rittenhouse.
KICKOFF — Nightly’s Tyler Weyant writes:
College football’s top division returns tonight with a slate of mildly entertaining games. The season will be fractured and fractious, with conferences canceling seasons, fans barred from games and huge concerns about safety. Here is Nightly’s scouting report for the fall.
Offense: Despite what you’ve heard, many conferences are pushing ahead with football and have gotten creative with how to build a schedule. Proudly independent Notre Dame has aligned with the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Defense: Conferences that postponed their seasons, including the Big Ten, Pac 12 and Mountain West, will hem and haw on a potential return to the field. Pressure will increase in the election season from fans, university officials and politicians. Prepare for inconsistent use of masks: A Football Championship Subdivision game played in Alabama last week featured few on the sidelines.
Coaching: Don’t listen to coaches, or politicians for that matter, regardless of how much noise they make. Decisions on the season will be made by university presidents and medical officials.
Special teams: Home-field advantage will be meager this year. Many schools are severely limiting the number of fans at games. Already, some schools have retreated to fanless events.
Intangibles: Postponements of games, or more season cancelations, could occur at a moment’s notice. Penn State’s director of athletic medicine dropped terrifying stats on heart inflammation in infected athletes this week (only to have to walk them back a short time later). Enjoy the pageantry while you can, because the circus could pack up and leave town anytime.
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