Thomas R. O'Donnell

The COVID-19 pandemic “personal responsibility” political crutch

In Government on February 22, 2021 at 7:35 am
Des Moines Public Schools employee receives COVID-19 vaccination on February 13, 2021.
Des Moines Public Schools employees receive the COVID-19 vaccine on February 13, 2021. Photo credit: Phil Roeder Vaccinate to Educate via photopin (license).

In October, I wrote a letter to the Des Moines Register (which didn’t publish it, as often happens) about the rise in Iowa COVID-19 cases. I cited New York Times statistics, which showed with a seven-day average of daily new cases in the state that ranged from 638 to 927. Average daily deaths varied from a low of six to a high of 10.

The charts show the state never really got the pandemic under control. While it varied, by fall there were around a thousand new cases and about 10 deaths every day – 70 a week, 300 a month.

Yet it wasn’t until November, when cases hit a seven-day average of around 4,700, that Gov. Kim Reynolds enacted a loophole-filled mask mandate.

She abandoned that requirement, and other preventive measures, in early February, citing a decline in new case and hospitalizations. But the seven-day average of positive tests still is around 455 and even more people are dying – a seven-day average of about 16 (as of Saturday, February 20). That’s 112 a week, 480 a month.

Now we’d be grateful to lose just 30 people a month. The baseline for death has moved up, making what once was horrifying seem acceptable.

As she lifted almost all restrictions on Iowans, Reynolds returned to the mantra she chanted throughout most of 2020 to avoid mandating masks: “I trust Iowans to do the right thing,”  she said, relying on the conservative “personal resonsibility” slogan.

It sounds great, right? Our governor trusts us! We’re all going to be responsible!

If only it were that simple. The idea of “personal responsibility” is complex – and even moreso when it come to science-based pandemic restrictions. For many reasons, we can’t count on it keep Iowans healthy.

Big scope in the deep woods: The fate of ISU’s Mather Telescope

In Uncategorized, University research on November 10, 2020 at 7:20 am

The Mather Telescope in its glory days.

The Mather Telescope in its glory days.

The approximately 45 acres of rolling woodland southwest of Boone that Aaron and Melissa Gillett bought last month are a haven for deer, wild turkeys, foxes and other wildlife.

Plus one white elephant.

After months of bureaucratic and pandemic-related delays, the Gilletts closed on a deal with the Iowa Board of Regents to buy the former Erwin W. Fick Observatory, a venerable facility where hundreds of Iowa State University students got their first taste of large-scale astronomy. The college abandoned it about five years ago. Workers stripped the steel-sided building of most electronics and metal for salvage, disposal or sale as surplus equipment.

But they left behind an enormous reminder of the observatory’s past.

The mom and the hurdler: an update

In Uncategorized on October 7, 2019 at 7:44 am

Jill Viles (with her son, Martin) uses an electric scooter to get around. Patricia Lopes-Schliep is a world-class hurdler. The women have discovered they share a rare muscle condition. For Viles, it's part of the reason she can no longer walk. For Lopes-Schliep, it's part of the reason for her dominance on the track.

Jill Viles (with her son, Martin) in 2015 and Priscilla Lopes-Schliep. Image via the Toronto Star.

I’m behind the curve on this (life, you know), but I have an update on one of my most popular posts – one that still gets regular views, partially thanks to search engines, more than three years after it went up.

It’s the story of an Iowa mother who uses a scooter to get around due to a muscle-wasting condition and her strange connection to a world-class athlete.

Although the mother, Jill Viles, is still at it and busy spreading her story, the update is not all happy news.

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