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OUR OPINION: It's time for face mask mandate in Iowa

OUR OPINION: It's time for face mask mandate in Iowa

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In this space on Wednesday, we said Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds should, at a minimum, respond to a recent flurry of troubling Iowa COVID-19 news by freeing local leaders to impose and enforce face mask requirements - something prohibited by the governor's coronavirus public health proclamation.

However, as members of our editorial board have continued to reflect on the disturbing, worsening coronavirus landscape in Iowa, we have concluded a patchwork of local mandates isn't good enough - even if Reynolds permitted it.

No, we believe what is required in Iowa is a statewide mandate for use of face masks in public.

As a powerful acknowledgement of today's coronavirus realities in our state and the agreement of health experts on face mask effectiveness, Reynolds should issue a face mask order as nearly three dozen other states have done. The order should remain in effect until proper state and federal health care officials say it's safe to end it.

As August gave way to September, virus cases in Iowa surged. The state set records for number of new cases confirmed in a single day (1,477) and for its 14-day rolling total of positive cases (11,091). As we write this on Friday, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported another 1,183 positive cases, pushing the state's total to almost 68,000 cases. More than 1,130 Iowans have died from the coronavirus.

In a report published last Sunday, the White House coronavirus task force said Iowa's new coronavirus cases per 100,000 population ranked highest in the country, almost triple the national average. Among its recommendations was a statewide face mask mandate. This followed a letter sent to Reynolds in late July signed by nearly 300 Iowa doctors urging the governor to issue such an order.

On Friday, a model released by the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation forecast more than 410,000 Americans could die from the coronavirus by Jan. 1, more than doubling the current death toll. That means another 224,000 lives could be lost over the next four months. However, the model predicts near-universal face mask use could reduce the number of projected additional deaths by more than half.

"We are not defenseless against COVID-19,” Centers for Disease Control Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield said earlier this summer. “Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus – particularly when used universally within a community setting. All Americans have a responsibility to protect themselves, their families and their communities.”

A statewide mandate with a promise of enforcement sends the message about the importance of face mask use during this life-and-death public health crisis in stronger fashion than a recommendation too many Iowans ignore.

Frankly, we can't conceive of a good reason for not having one in place.

Our Opinion editorials represent the consensus view of The Sioux City Journal editorial board. Members of the board include: Bruce Miller, editor; Michael Gors, editorial page editor; Dave Dreeszen; managing editor; Tim Hynds, chief photographer.

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