Common Good Iowa

COVID: Recognizing a threat and a solution

Posted on January 30, 2022 at 2:11 PM by Mike Owen

When you have a health and safety problem that is driven by people refusing to act, for whatever reasons — financial or philosophical, or even inconvenience or pride — it's hard to argue that a voluntary approach will be successful.

The size of the vaccinated adult population in Iowa largely has become stagnant, resulting in the percentages shown in the graph below. Since November, the vaccinated percentage of each age group (except for children ages 5-11) has raised by only 1 or 2 percentage points.

Meanwhile, the spread of the COVID-19 virus and its variants has intensified, to its highest points of the pandemic.

"Iowans will do the right thing,” Governor Reynolds has said, many times — all while objecting to requirements on masking in public places, let alone vaccinations, while acknowledging the vaccines are the best defense against the coronavirus.

Clearly, some Iowans will not automatically do the right thing. The evidence is undeniable, and it is daunting — not just with the poor vaccination percentage (60 percent) but with the other measures showing the recent spread at its highest point of the pandemic, and deaths now above 8,500.

At some point we have to recognize when voluntary isn't enough. Sometimes people need a stronger incentive, or a stronger nudge, to act. We have seen it with the abuse of our land and water by the state's failure to rein in Big Ag. Voluntary approaches to stop pollution have failed miserably. And now we have our latest example: COVID mitigation.

There are good actors — lots of them. And then there are enough whose inaction is enough to defeat the greater good. The Governor's public comments have not persuaded them to do otherwise.

In short, the federal focus on the workplace to stop the spread of COVID makes perfect sense. Workers have largely stopped getting vaccinated, yet the virus is spreading at its highest levels. In many states — including Iowa — governors and legislators have worked to block the federal initiatives.

If we are not going to have requirements, we must ask what tools our leaders will use to persuade Iowans to "do the right thing." Neither a critical mass of the population nor the leaders are doing it now.

We're coming up on the two-year anniversary of the pandemic hitting Iowa. Maybe we should get serious about it. We're too late for at least 8,500 people. So far.


Mike Owen is deputy director of Common Good Iowa, a nonpartisan, nonprofit public policy research and advocacy organization formed in 2020 by the merger of the Child and Family Policy Center in Des Moines and the Iowa Policy Project in Iowa City. Contact:

Categories: Covid-19, Health, Jobs & labor

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