DES MOINES, Iowa — Medical professionals from across Iowa gathered on the steps of the Capitol Saturday, urging Gov. Kim Reynolds to sign a statewide mask mandate.
Doctors also sent a letter to Gov. Reynolds's office, signed by over 300 physicians and advanced practice providers, urging her to require mask-wearing in public places.
"Iowa is on the cusp of catastrophe," Dr. Austin Baeth, an internal medicine physician with UnityPoint, said. "And we need to do everything we can do now to stop this pandemic before it gets even worse," Baeth said.
"There is one major tool we're not using in the fight against the coronavirus, and that is a public mask policy."
Right now, Iowa is one of just two states to not require masks in public in any capacity, the other being South Dakota.
Dr. Baeth was the first to speak at the Capitol Saturday morning, citing a recent poll that showed only 54 percent of Iowans actually wear masks in public, and saying that number is not high enough.
"There is science behind our recommendations," Baeth said. "This isn't politics. In fact, in my opinion, there should be no room for politics when we're discussing how to beat this disease."
On top of protecting the public health, Baeth said a mask mandate is also beneficial to the economy, as it's "clearly the preferable option" compared to business closures and stay-at-home orders.
Baeth said while some believe COVID-19 to be a minimal or even fictional threat, it is very real and needs to be taken much more seriously. He was speaking from experience.
While at the podium, Baeth told the emotional story of how one of his long-time patients died from coronavirus complications. The virus caused her oxygen levels to drop to 65 percent, and she was immediately put on a ventilator in the ICU.
Her kidneys and liver eventually failed, she suffered significant brain damage and her heart stopped. They revived her, but she wouldn't wake up.
She spent another three weeks in the ICU before she died.
He also told of the difficult conversation he had to have with his patient's daughter, asking if it was time to let her mom go. Her daughter came to the ICU to hug her mother one final time, as the family was split apart.
"Over 44 thousand Iowans have been infected by this virus, and as of [Saturday], 872 of Iowa's mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, husbands and wives have lost their lives," Dr. Baeth said.
"COVID-19 is real. It's raging through every part of this state. And it's going to get so much worse if we don't start taking this seriously. That includes our elected officials."
You can watch the full press conference here: