Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds remained bullish on the state's recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, despite concerns raised by federal health officials and some local business owners over her recent decision to lift COVID-19 mitigation efforts.
"Iowa is coming back, and we're coming back strong," Reynolds said Friday. "Part of that, I think, is because we were balanced in our approach in how we handled mitigation of COVID-19. We kept over 80% of our economy up and going."
As a result, Iowa has not had to make "massive budget cuts like other states are seeing," the governor said.
Reynolds, too, touted Iowa's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate falling to 3.1% in December, third-lowest in the country. Recent Iowa jobless claims, though, were up from a week ago.
"We have a phenomenal opportunity, because if you look at how they've been shutdown on the east and west coasts — north and south, really — we're open and we've got a great quality of life, and cost of doing business is second to none in the country," Reynolds said.
The governor has cited steady declines in hospitalizations, cases and deaths in the state since a surge in November and December for lifting a partial public face mask requirement, limits on public gatherings and restrictions on businesses. However, it also comes as the state’s COVID-19 vaccination rate has been among the lowest in the country; as new and more contagious strains of the virus have been detected in Iowa; and with K-12 schools set to resume in-person instruction to all students on Monday.
Democrats have also blasted Reynolds for not consulting her public health department before lifting the state’s COVID-19 mitigation strategies, arguing the decision was based on politics and catering to business interests.
Reynolds used her elimination of COVID-19 restrictions in a fundraising pitch, tweeting: "While radicals on the Left want to shut Iowa down, I am fighting to keep Iowa open!"
Reynolds and Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg stopped at Hotel Blackhawk to talk about downtown Davenport's transformation over the last 20 years and pushing forward placemaking initiatives, like Vision Iowa, to aid the state's recovery from COVID-19.
"Placemaking is about workforce. It is about talent attraction and retention," Kyle Carter, executive director of the Downtown Davenport Partnership, told Reynolds of investing in recreation, entertainment, arts and culture, and other community attractions to make Iowa more attractive to new businesses and families, and improve quality of life across the state.
Reynold said she intends to make that a priority next year, and is focused on advancing more pressing workforce development issues this legislative session. That includes investing $450 million of state funds in broadband infrastructure over the next three years, increasing child care assistance and addressing affordable housing needs across the state.
Meanwhile, Reynolds brushed aside a question about statehouse Republicans advancing a bill that would abolish tenure at the state’s three public universities. Another would require those schools to poll their faculty on their political affiliation.
Opponents of the bill, including Iowa pork and poultry producers, cattlemen and soybean growers, argue it will incite an exodus of top faculty, hinder recruitment and chill research endeavors supporting Iowa’s agriculture and health care industries, making it more difficult to attract people and businesses to Iowa.
"It's a long ways from working through the process," Reynolds said. "We'll see what happens with that bill as it moves forward."
Davenport Mayor Mike Matson told Reynolds Iowa needs "more vaccines."
"Anything we can do ... to get more into the arms of folks ... that is critical to get this recovery going again so we can move forward," Matson said.
Iowa ranks near the bottom of states with the lowest vaccination rate in the country. About 9% of eligible Iowans have received at least the first of two shots, according to federal data.
Reynolds earlier this week said her administration continues its effort to accelerate COVID-19 vaccinations across the state, but that Iowa continues to receive fewer vaccine doses from the federal government than other states.
The state had administered roughly 68% of the vaccine doses it has received, the 26th-highest rate among all states.
Reynolds said Friday the state is expected to receive the new single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine the first of March.
"That will be a game-changer for the state," she said. "We are rockin' and rollin'. We are getting into our rhythm."