A few weeks after getting battered by a derecho, Iowa is once again in the national spotlight as daily new coronavirus cases spike higher than anywhere else in the continental U.S. Hunkered down in their basement offices on the east side of pandemic central (Iowa City, Iowa), Jesse Stone and David Borger-Germann give the inside scoop.
David: You know, I’ve always wanted to be special, to be really great at something. But climbing the charts of the global pandemic isn’t what I dreamed about as a kid.
Jesse: Sorry, I just had a picture of Casey Kasem announcing Iowa City as it rises to number one on his “Hotspots Top 40” chart. “Here’s a city that knows a thing or two about going viral…”. But yeah, this whole thing is kind of a downer.
David: The only thing I hate right now is that Ames, home of Iowa State, is still higher on the charts than Iowa City, home of my beloved University of Iowa. And they’re planning a home football game in a couple weeks with 25,000 fans in attendance. Are they winning, or are we?
Jesse: Oh yes, I see what you mean. This chart from the New York Times shows Ames as having the greatest number of daily new cases in the entire country! But we are still within striking distance at third. Don’t count us out yet, David. Coronavirus season is a marathon, not a sprint.
David: Good point! It’s just that we started way behind here in Iowa City. Unlike Iowa State, we didn’t even test the Iowa students when they started classes this fall. Why test when testing makes your stats look really bad?
Jesse: If you think about it, testing is really the root of the problem. What you don’t know, can’t kill you. That’s like a proverb or something, right?
David: Our governor Kim Reynolds set the target at 15 percent positivity rate to determine whether schools should stay open. That’s way above the WHO’s guideline of 5 percent. The Director of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) affirmed that standard on a phone call with reporters in late July, but since then the CDC has backed off from making any official recommendation. At first, I was alarmed at how high our governor set the threshold. But then I realized that our governor seems committed to testing as few people as possible, so it’s very likely we’ll exceed that threshold for a long time.
Jesse: Yeah, she really should have set that target positivity rate much, much higher if her intention was to force schools to stay open no matter what. Isn’t the current positivity rate for the whole state around 50 percent? Why are we even testing people at this point? Why not just have everyone in the state flip a coin to determine if they are positive or negative, and then, regardless of the result of the flip, MAKE EVERYONE STAY INSIDE FOR TWO WEEKS!
David: You know, I learned recently that Iowa has over 1,000 caves. Maybe we could move into a few and wait this whole thing out. Will our neighbors leave us alone there?
Jesse: Shh! David. The UI students might hear you and decide that since all the bars have been shut down that those caves sound like a great place to party. I mean wouldn’t it be a perfect plot twist if a virus that may have started in a bat and jumped to humans outside of Wuhan, China, made its way from humans back to bats during an impromptu underground rave in rural Iowa, only to mutate again into a supercoronavirus that decimates most of humanity? If you think our reputation was bad after the caucuses…
David: Has anyone tried convincing Iowans that corn can contract COVID-19? How about hogs? Hogs outnumber people 6:1 in our state, so maybe people will wear masks if they think hogs are at risk?
Jesse: Or… and hear me out… people might decide it makes the most sense to put masks on the corn? Obviously a neck gaiter would make the most sense for a corncob, despite some evidence that they aren’t particularly useful in mitigating spread. The pigs would get N95 masks of course.
David: Save the pigs! Save the corn! Save the clock tower! Just don’t tell people to wear masks.
Jesse: How about a statewide Wild West-themed murder mystery party in which all the guests are outlaws who must (obviously) adorn their faces with bandanas?
David: Here’s another idea: let’s see if we can get a public service announcement from a resurrected Nile Kinnick. The All American, Heisman Trophy winner from Iowa who was killed during a World War II training exercise surely could convince Iowans to wear masks and adhere to social distancing, right?
Jesse: I’m pretty sure a resurrected Nile Kinnick could get Iowans to do literally anything. That would be a lot of responsibility to wield. Thankfully, I believe, Iowans and their political leaders have shown themselves to be incredibly responsible thus far.
David: Alas, if only that were so. Even as our governor continues to stress the gospel of personal responsibility, Iowans keep failing. Ugh. Stay safe, Jesse.
Jesse: You too, David.