GOP Iowa governor claims 'there's science on both sides' of mask debate

GOP Iowa governor claims 'there's science on both sides' of mask debate
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Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) on Tuesday claimed that there is "science on both sides" of the debate on whether masks are effective in preventing spread of the coronavirus, a statement that contradicts federal health officials' guidance on the subject. 

The comments from Reynolds come just one day after she instituted a mask mandate in her state. 

During a news conference, Reynolds was asked by a reporter to explain the scientific basis for Iowa's new mask requirements, according to the Des Moines Register.

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"There's science on both sides and you know that," she said, without providing details. "If you look, you can find whatever you want to support wherever you're at." 

The outlet noted that her comments appeared to conflict with the recommendations of public health experts.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a new report last week that found that masks not only protect the general public from COVID-19, but also protect the mask wearer.

The virus spreads mainly through respiratory droplets in the air, particularly when people are coughing, sneezing, talking or even breathing. Masks are intended to reduce the amount of droplets expelled into the air, especially for asymptomatic or presymptomatic people who feel well and may be unaware they are infected. 

"Studies demonstrate that cloth mask materials can also reduce wearers’ exposure to infectious droplets through filtration, including filtration of fine droplets and particles less than 10 microns," the agency said in a brief. 

Reynolds was later asked to clarify her remarks about face masks and said that there are "different studies on both" sides.

"They are effective. I'm not saying they're not. It's part of the layered mitigation efforts that we've put in place," she said. "I'm encouraging people to use them, especially if you can't social distance." 

Reynolds spokesman Pat Garrett later said that the governor meant to say there are people on both sides of the issue, according to the Register. He added that the governor’s position is that the science on masks is clear. 

The governor has long resisted calls to require face masks across the state amid the coronavirus pandemic. However, she reversed course on Monday as cases continue to skyrocket across the Hawkeye State. 

Reynolds signed a proclamation Monday night that requires those 2 years and older to wear a mask in indoor areas open to the public where they will be within six feet of people who are not members of their household for 15 minutes or longer. 

"If Iowans don't buy into this, we lose," Reynolds said. "Businesses will close once again, more schools will be forced to go online and our health care system will fail, and the cost in human life will be high. So now is the time to come together for the greater good."

However, the mask requirement does not extend to the state’s schools — a move met with condemnation from teacher’s union.

Iowa State Education Association President Mike Beranek said that Reynolds’s proclamation contained “half measures and more requests for personal responsibility.”

“We need a clear and simple mask mandate for our schools. We are in a crisis and we need a leader,” Beranek said in a statement.

Reynolds also banned indoor gatherings of more than 15 people, or 30 when outdoors, with exceptions for gatherings in the "ordinary course of business."

Iowa reported 2,003 new coronavirus infections on Monday, bringing the overall total to 191,400 cases since the onset of the pandemic. The state currently has a 17.1 percent positivity rate.