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Iowa's coronavirus response has been bad, and is only getting worse

To say Iowa is bungling its response to a staggering statewide coronavirus outbreak is something of an understatement. When your state's senator starts publicly trafficking in death-toll conspiracy theories at the same time you go from the ninth-highest case rate in the country to the deeply un-coveted No. 1 spot in the course of a single week, words like "bungling" or "catastrophically screwing up" just don't seem to cut it anymore.

Still, whatever your preferred cataclysmic terminology may be, the fact remains that Iowa is the newest epicenter of — and poster child for — the U.S.'s cavalcade of pandemic failures. So much so, in fact, that even the White House has recommended Iowa do more to address its surging infection rates, particularly among young adults, by closing bars in 61 counties. Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds had put forth a plan to shutter them in just six counties.

"Rural and urban counties in Iowa continue to have increases in case and test positivity," a White House coronavirus task force report from last week stated. "Common sense preventive measures must be implemented to stop further spread."

Among those "common sense" measures recommended by the White House is a statewide mask mandate, the sort of thing that's been proven to mitigate the spread of coronavirus. But Reynolds declined the recommendation, saying mask mandates are "not enforceable." Instead, Reynolds hinted during a Wednesday afternoon press conference, it might just be easier to change the drinking age across the entire state.

"If we have to adjust, we will," Reynolds told reporters Wednesday, echoing a push by her state's bar and restaurant industry to change the laws around who can drink and when, rather than simply closing bars entirely.

"We're going to try this [county shutdown] first," Reynolds explained. "We had restrictions. They didn't abide by that. We put enforcement behind it. We gave them a warning. We did the fine. We said if it happens again, you're going to lose your license."

"So right now I've made the determination to shut down," she continued. "I don't like doing that. I am trying to balance the health and safety of Iowans with the livelihoods of these small businesses."

Indeed, Reynolds has done such a great job maintaining that balance that Iowa's schoolteachers have begun sending her tongue-in-cheek copies of their self-penned obituaries ahead of the state's maskless school opening. As of this past Sunday, per the White House's coronavirus task force, Iowa has more than 100 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents.