DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds signaled a return to normalcy Tuesday by pardoning two turkeys while cautioning Iowans to remain vigilant against COVID-19 when they gather for Thanksgiving celebrations this week.
Reynolds gathered on the lawn of the Terrace Hill mansion with Iowa Turkey Federation leaders, family members and other dignitaries to read a proclamation officially declaring a tom turkey named Squash and a hen named Stuffing were “free to roam” for the rest of their days at Living History Farms in Urbandale — signaling the start of Thanksgiving holiday festivities around the state.
“We’ve been through a rough couple of years and so I love that life is getting back to normal and people can gather with their families safely and responsibly and really count their blessings,” the governor told reporters in noting that the number of positive COVID cases is down substantially from a year ago. “We’ve got a lot to be thankful for.”
The improved pandemic outlook, she said, is tied to the fact that “a good chunk” of Iowans have been vaccinated against the virus, and she noted she planned to get a booster shot soon now that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has authorized boosters of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for all adults.
According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, about 74 percent of Iowans age 18 and over and 71 percent of Iowans age 12 and over have received at least one dose of the vaccine. With the recent authorization of the pediatric Pfizer vaccine, more than 31,000 Iowans ages 5 to 11 also have received their first shot.
“Our (vaccination) numbers continue to go up, so that’s positive. We’re seeing a lot of the pediatric vaccines are being administered, so we’re seeing families that are taking advantage of that,” Reynolds noted. “We have a good number of people who have had COVID that have natural immunity, and that’s part of the equation also. It’s something that they don’t like to talk about, but it is part of the equation. We just need to do it safely and responsibly. I’m proud of where our numbers are at, and we’re going to continue to make vaccines available and encourage people to get them if they want to.”
Reynolds said she also got a flu shot and encouraged Iowans to do the same, telling reporters “we were kind of isolated last year so we anticipate that this potentially could be a really bad flu year and so people should take advantage of the flu shots and make sure that they aren’t impacted from that.”
Flu activity in the state still is low, but health officials say cases have increased in the last week. Both the flu and COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death from these viruses, according to state health officials.
On other topics, Reynolds said she and her legal team are studying their options now that a district court judge has ruled that an Iowa law she signed that blocks Medicaid coverage of gender confirming surgery is unconstitutional.
“Of course we were disappointed with the ruling and disagree,” the governor said of the 60-plus-page decision handed down by Judge William P. Kelly. “My legal team is looking at it. There will be more to come later on. We’re still looking through it and trying to determine what our options are.”
The ACLU of Iowa filed a lawsuit after Aiden Vasquez and Mika Covington were denied state-paid Medicaid coverage for surgeries their doctors said were medically necessary to treat gender dysphoria. Kelly ruled that the denials violated the Iowa Civil Rights Act and the Iowa Constitution.
On a separate topic, Reynolds said she is confident federal overseers will determine her office acted appropriately when it used nearly $450,000 in federal coronavirus relief funds to pay salaries for 21 staff members for three months last year.
“We feel very, very confident that we can provide the documentation that shows that we were working 100 percent of our time on COVID-19 because the projections were horrific,” the governor said in discussing relief funds that Iowa Auditor Rob Sand contends were used improperly.
Reynolds said intensive work was being done by all state agencies in March, April and May 2020 to fully focus on responding to COVID-19.
“We’ll have no problem in providing them the documentation they need,” she told reporters Tuesday. “I don’t think there was probably a governor in the country that wasn’t working 100 percent of their time on COVID.”
Also Tuesday, Reynolds said Iowa officials are awaiting criteria and other details from federal agencies regarding the passage of a massive federal infrastructure package that likely will bring significant money to Iowa for building improvements, housing, broadband and other infrastructure needs. She said she wants to be “very strategic” in using one-time federal money to supplement existing programs and launch some new projects in ways that won’t translate into ongoing expenses.
While she welcomed the federal money, she cautioned that Democrats in the nation’s capital have to curb their spending appetite, saying “at some point that has to stop because there comes a pay day at some point, and the amount of money that is coming out of Washington, D.C., is unconscionable.”