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Why doesn’t Jarad Klein care about COVID? It’s not like it’s just a problem for “other states” or big cities. Iowa’s COVID cases continue to climb, with over 840 in Keokuk County and 2000 in Washington County as of this writing.
Recent decisions by Iowa Republicans have not helped, as their protocol for those at the Capitol requires no masks or negative COVID tests. Instead:
Members of the public will be required to have their temperature checked and complete a questionnaire administered by Capitol security officers when they enter the building.
Those requirements do not appear to apply to lawmakers. Legislators exempted themselves from temperature checks when they met in a shortened session last June after taking a hiatus due to COVID-19, although members of the public were required to have their temperatures taken.
So it’s not really surprising, but very disappointing to see Jarad Klein, R-Keota post to his Facebook page a photograph of him swearing in without wearing a mask.
You can see in the screenshot that someone mentions that he is maskless, to which he responds in a rather juvenile manner I won’t bother to reproduce here. He claims being 6 feet away meant he was safe and whines about how sad it is that they didn’t want to see him swear in safely. Well, we did want to see it! But being maskless by definition made the ceremony unsafe.
Edit 8:20PM: It turns out that someone associated with the Iowa House has tested positive, after last being in the Capitol on the 13th. They very well may have been an unmasked legislator or a legislative staff member.
Importance of Masks
We know that wearing masks substantially reduces your risk of catching or spreading COVID-19. One study, published in Nature (Reiner, Barber, et. al., 2020) found that near-universal mask wearing (95% of the population) could save about 130,000 lives between late September and February 2021.
Studies that have looked at communities that implemented mask mandates found that they reduce cases when compared to similar communities that did not implement the mandates. For example, Lyu & Weh’s 2020 paper in Health Affairs found a near-immediate decline in cases, and up to a 2% decline 3 weeks after the mandate was implemented.
We also know that it takes multiple techniques to limit your exposure. In one shocking paper, Lednicky et. al. (2020) explain that COVID is made up of both droplet and aerosol transmission. Droplet transmissions are blocked by your masks, but with “aerosol-based transmission, measures such as physical distancing by 6 feet would not be helpful in an indoor setting, provide a false-sense of security, and lead to exposures and outbreaks. With the current surge of cases, to help stem the COVID-19 pandemic, clear guidance on control measures against SARS-CoV-2 aerosols are needed, as recently voiced by other scientists (Morawska and Milton, 2020).” (Emphasis mine.)
There is no magic forcefield. Social distancing and mask-wearing are part of a multi-pronged strategy and social distancing alone is not enough, contrary to what Klein stated in his Facebook post.
How Politicians Affect People’s Behavior
Politicians affect people’s behavior. We know they do. They model how to act and react to situations. They are supposed to demonstrate the best of us, which is why it’s especially shocking when public servants are involved in corruption scandals and other things we see as “unbecoming” of an elected official.
There is research support to the idea that politicians can influence people’s behavior. In one study (Gächter, & Renner, 2018) economists had people make a contribution of funds to a public good. When one individual was selected to be a leader and make the initial contribution, others gave more than when there was no leader modeling that positive behavior.
Another study (Abel & Brown, 2020) found that people who watched average-citizen role models donating and volunteering were significantly more likely to donate and volunteer themselves. The study also found that watching politicians volunteer slightly increased their own likelihood to donate.
Jarad Klein once again demonstrates that he doesn’t have HD78’s best interests at heart. He had an opportunity to swear in with a mask, recognizing the profound effects that COVID has had on our life and encouraging others to take positive steps to save lives and reduce transmission of the virus ravaging our state, but he didn’t.
Instead, he decided to ignore the science. Iowa’s already lost thousands of people to COVID-19 (56 of those in Keokuk County and Washington County to date), and we should all do our part to keep that number as low as possible.
Side story 1: I asked Klein during the election to commit to make a public statement promoting voting by mail given that it is safer than voting in person and just as secure. First he ignored it, and then in a follow-up request 6 weeks later he refused. Another article for another day.
Side story 2: I once asked Jarad Klein at a legislative forum about why he sponsored HF473, a bill that would eliminate both noncommercial and commercial caps on turtle harvesting. He explained that while Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) staff instituted the caps to prevent over-harvesting, commercial trappers told him they weren’t. And so he introduced the bill because apparently trappers with a vested interest in being allowed to harvest know more about this than the DNR.
Abel, M. & Brown, W. (2020) Prosocial Behavior in the Time of COVID-19: The Effect of Private and Public Role Models. IZA Institute of Labor Economics. Retrieved from https://www.iza.org/publications/dp/13207/prosocial-behavior-in-the-time-of-covid-19-the-effect-of-private-and-public-role-models
Lednicky, J.A., Lauzardo, M., Fan, Z.H., et. al. (2020) Viable SARS-CoV-2 in the air of a hospital room with COVID-19 patients. International Journal of Infectious Diseases. 100. 476-482. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijid.2020.09.025
Lyu, W., & Weh, G.L. (2020) Community Use Of Face Masks And COVID-19: Evidence From A Natural Experiment Of State Mandates In The US. Health Affairs. 39:8, 1419-1425
IHME COVID-19 Forecasting Team., Reiner, R.C., Barber, R.M. et al. Modeling COVID-19 scenarios for the United States. Nat Med 27, 94–105 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41591-020-1132-9
Gächter, Simon, Renner, E. (2018) Leaders as role models and ‘belief managers’ in social dilemmas. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization. 154. 321-334. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jebo.2018.08.001.