Des Moines Mayor On His City's COVID-19 Mandates
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Iowa is one of seven states Dr. Anthony Fauci she says needs to be on high alert this Labor Day weekend because of rising coronavirus infections. The White House Coronavirus Task Force has suggested state officials close the bars in 61 of Iowa's counties and mandate the wearing of masks across the state. So far, Governor Kim Reynolds has rejected those recommendations. But the mayor of Des Moines, Frank Cownie, issued a mask mandate in Iowa's capital city last week.
He joins us now from Des Moines. Thanks very much for being with us, Mr. Mayor.
FRANK COWNIE: Thank you. It's great to be here.
SIMON: You've referred to these recommendations as an IQ test. How so?
COWNIE: You know, the science is there. This isn't a question of politics to me. I have a responsibility to hopefully help maintain the public health of our citizens. So we stepped it up and mandated the masks as we watched the numbers rise so quickly and in ways that we never would have imagined to protect the health and well-being of our citizens.
SIMON: What about the idea, Mr. Mayor, that, you know, Iowans and citizens of Des Moines have been alert to the dangers for months now, they have had a chance to read the studies, they follow the news, they can make their own choices and, if I might put it this way, take their own risks?
COWNIE: Well, they can. But you know, if they are infected, to that point, they could infect others around them, whether it's their own friends or family or associates at work. This isn't just to protect ourselves; it's to protect others from us.
SIMON: The governor says she might raise the drinking age to, I guess, increase the age of people who are in bars maybe on the more mature side. What do you think of that?
COWNIE: Well, I'm not quite sure what she's talking about. Is she talking about raising it to 30 or what? I mean, it would be quicker and require less legal action if she would just, you know, work with all of us and mandate masks statewide. I mean, even the White House is now recommending that Iowa should mandate statewide mask wearing and, oh, by the way, shut down the bars in about 60 counties or more as opposed to the six that had been shut down.
SIMON: Have you spoken with the governor?
COWNIE: I have on a number of issues. And on this one, unfortunately, she is not willing to - at least up to now - consider the mask mandate.
SIMON: Governor also says that schools must be in session - in-person attendance half the time to receive government support. You, I'm sure, have seen the studies with so many officials, including health officials, talking about how important in-person school is for youngsters for food distribution, social services, for their mental health. Do you disagree with that?
COWNIE: In the face of a pandemic like we're seeing and the health risks to the students, first of all, and knowing that a lot of them, of course, are asymptomatic and spread it to teachers, administrators, take it home to their parents, their grandparents - science has told us that that probably is not our best plan at the moment. I will say that the Des Moines Public Schools is not going to start till after next Tuesday. Their plan is to be not in person. And they are - actually have a lawsuit in place with the Department of Education to try to resolve that issue because they think the risk of the spread, that it would accelerate that to proportions that we haven't seen even up to now.
SIMON: The mayor of Des Moines, Frank Cownie. Thanks so much for being with us, Mr. Mayor.
COWNIE: Yep. I got to tell you - wash your hands, wear a mask, and social distance. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.