Government oversight key to maintaining flow of public information

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Gov. Reynolds and her COVID-19 response team are rightly under intense scrutiny for their lack of transparency in handling data surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even under normal circumstances, Reynolds has problems with transparency, so this is no surprise, and it sets a horrible example for other public agencies. The recent refusal of the Iowa Department of Public Health and the Dallas County Department of Public Health to release data on positive COVID-19 cases in Perry is just the latest example. In this case, it’s not just an embarrassing thing to admit, but it actively endangers the residents of Perry, the families of plant employees and members of the community surrounding the facility.

The governor has no one to blame but herself. Right out of the gate, she made it clear that workers were not her priority. Her mixed messaging has been the root of our increasing COVID-19 cases all along. She never fully shut down the state and is now opening it back up despite “data and metrics” that are all trending in the wrong direction.

It’s a travesty that our state has been featured regularly on the national news – not for handling the crisis well – but for completely botching it.

To add insult to injury, Reynolds has nixed the release of key pieces of information. Starting with her questionable county regional grid, she did not engender the public’s confidence. It appears the TestIowa kits are not passing muster at the State Hygienic Lab. But still no answers on what is going on – just unacceptable delays in test results with no accountability.

When scientists at the University of Iowa’s College of Public Health issued their report and Reynolds ignored it – then didn’t release it –the public was harmed.

Reynolds withheld information about testing in the Perry Tyson plant far beyond what was reasonable. Despite calls from community leaders and city officials to release positive test results, the governor refused to do so and ducked direct questions about when the numbers would be released.

Even more appalling, the Dallas County Health Department followed the governor’s lead and refused to release the numbers until the media went into a frenzy and the State Auditor threatened to intervene.

Dallas County residents and all Iowans have a right to know all information about the COVID-19 crisis. As has been pointed out by numerous elected officials, the data requested is not revealing the names of COVID victims – instead, it is aggregated data that does not identify individuals.

Iowans deserve to have all the information and then be able to make decisions for themselves and their families. Without that, we are just stabbing in the dark. We’re all in this together. But that pleasant-sounding platitude only keeps us safe if we’re operating off the same information and being transparent and honest about what is happening.

This is the time to remind Gov. Reynolds that taxpayers are footing the bill for all the mitigation efforts, small business relief, unemployment benefits and stimulus. Therefore, the public is owed prompt access to all related procedures, statistics and results of those efforts. It seems like such a simple concept, but apparently Reynolds is struggling with that.

When the Iowa Legislature reconvenes, the Senate and House Government Oversight Committees should meet to review what went wrong, recommend course corrections and change the way state government operates so we can avoid this situation in the future.

Sen. Claire Celsi represents Senate District 21 in southwest Polk County and northwest Warren County. She can be reached by email at claire.celsi@legis.iowa.gov or phone at 515-462-0487.

1 COMMENT

  1. Who would’ve thought Claire Celsi would be more interested in political posturing than coming together and solving this unprecedented situation? There are not going to be 100% correct decisions. Leaders make decisions, measure them and react accordingly. Those who can’t lead, complain and posture. We already knew which one Claire was, but she continues to highlight it.

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