Kim Reynolds disputes ‘terminology’ of White House warning of ‘many preventable deaths’ in Iowa from COVID-19

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said she told a leading member of the White House coronavirus task force that she disputed the panel’s recent warning that Iowa has suffered “many preventable deaths” from COVID-19.

“I don’t agree with the terminology, the phrases that they used, and I actually talked to Secretary (Alex) Azar about that yesterday,” the governor said Friday, referring to the secretary of Health and Human Services.

The White House task force has been sending weekly reports to governors. Many of the ones sent to Iowa have urged the state to take more aggressive measures to rein in its coronavirus outbreak, which has been among the nation’s steepest over the two months. For example, the task force has repeatedly called on Iowa to require residents to wear face masks in public, which Reynolds has declined to do.

The task force’s warning to Iowa about “many preventable deaths” came in a White House report dated Oct. 4. 

Azar, a member of the coronavirus task force, was in Des Moines Thursday for a visit to the LifeServe Blood Center. Reynolds accompanied him on the visit.

The governor referred to the conversation with the secretary Friday after a Des Moines Register reporter asked her about the White House task force’s dire warning. She said that after she raised concerns about the phrasing, “he referred to it as choices that people make.”

Reynolds has previously said that the White House coronavirus task force sometimes “don’t have the entire picture of everything we are doing.”

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks with faculty of the Des Moines Metro Opera during an event Oct. 16, 2020, recognizing the city of Indianola as an "Iowa Great Place."

Reynolds said Friday that her administration has implemented many recommendations from the White House task force. However, she said, “I have to balance it all. So I have to look at the lives and the livelihoods of Iowans, and that is about keeping our economy up and going. … We have to balance really mitigating coronavirus but also figuring out how we learn to live with it in a safe and responsible manner.”

On Friday afternoon, she extended the public health mitigation measures currently in place for businesses until Nov. 15.

Reynolds’ critics contend that she could simultaneously protect lives and livelihoods by taking stronger measures to tamp down the coronavirus, which could help businesses reopen more safely. 

The White House task force’s reports often contain stronger warnings than those from President Donald Trump, who became ill with COVID-19 earlier this month. The president later told Americans “don’t be afraid of this virus.”

More:‘Didn’t love it,’ Trump says of bout with coronavirus

On Wednesday, Trump greeted thousands of fans at a campaign rally in Des Moines, even though his coronavirus task force had recommended gatherings in the city be limited to 25 or fewer people because the area is in a “yellow zone” for spread of the virus. 

By Friday, the virus had killed more than 218,000 Americans, including at least 1,523 Iowans. 

More:The Iowans we’ve lost to COVID-19

Tony Leys covers health care for the Register. Reach him at tleys@registermedia.com or 515-284-8449.