The Psychological Abuse of Iowa’s “No Mask Required” Policy

February 19th, 2021

The Psychological Abuse of Iowa’s “No Mask Required” Policy

Thirteen days ago, our Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, for some unfathomable reason, made her own decision to lift restrictions across the state, and rescind the partial mask mandate meant to protect the lives of Iowans. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds Rescinds Mask Mandate in Face of Mutations (

She did this without consulting our own Iowa Department of Health. A person who holds the lives of 3,000,000 Iowans in her hands, made this decision on her own. Gov. Reynolds did not consult state health department before lifting COVID restrictions, Iowa Democrats say | The Gazette

The outcry was immediate from health care professionals, state and national media, and most importantly her own citizens. Some citizens who are anti mask and anti science were pleased.

Then there were the rest of us. What I read through the comments, letters and posts was shock, fear, anger, and anxiety. As a leader in a pro mask group, I heard from teachers, essential workers, health care workers, educators, and many others was that despite our own efforts we no longer had protection from the silent serial killer that is Covid 19. That’s how it felt to me personally, as a mother of a school teacher, and as a woman over 60. We knew that we could do our part to protect others, but we also knew that others now had free rein to injure, perhaps kill, and overwhelm, make more dangerous any workplace, and overwhelm our already exhausted health care and essential workers. And from reports today that free rein to ignore covid and its dangerous new variants, has already started.

The Governor’s inexplicable decision, to me, seemed arbitrary, dangerous, and yes, abusive. I’ve written previously that her decisions made throughout the pandemic finally came down to a form of workplace bullying, that I was familiar with due to many years of working with the Workplace Bullying Institute. Sioux City anti-bullying activist calls Iowa governor a COVID-19 bully (

As a social worker for 10 years and an anti violence activist and philanthropist , both in Iowa and across the country for 20 years, I know bullying and abuse when I see it, hear it, and feel it.

My family foundations have sponsored three anti violence films: “Bully”, HBO’s ”Private Violence”, and Netflix “Audrie and Daisy”. Each explores the horrific costs of violence committed and perpetrated on our featured characters. Some of these characters are living and have survived abuse, though not without considerable trauma. Some, sadly, have died by taking their own lives. The pain was too much for them to bear.

That’s what abuse does to it’s victims. It inflicts pain. What is happening in has and will cause great pain. Iowa’s policies now seem to go beyond the term “bullying”. Bullying, after all is abuse. It’s a stronger word, and the word that many of my colleagues prefer. I’m with them.

Standing along side the obvious physical abuse of costing precious lives, is psychological abuse. They are intertwined. Psychological abuse is insidious. Like the virus, it can be more silent in how it infects people. But it is meant to “distort, confuse or influence a person’s thoughts and actions within their everyday lives, changing their sense of self and harming their well being.” Psychological abuse | Safelives

Like many abuse victims, we feel we have no pushback. We’ve gone so far as to contact the White House. Some cities are pushing back, by continuing to mandate masks, despite the Governor’s order. Our school system in Sioux City is among many who will still require masks. But many of us live in cities that have not or feel they can’t push back, or won’t. Some businesses will continue to follow safety. Citizens are writing, calling, emailing. These are all things we tried during the many months that she refused to mandate masks. We were ignored. When finally, in November, she issued her tepid mandate, it was only because cases were exploding, hospitals were overwhelmed and deaths were spiking.

This is what I’m hearing from other Iowans.

I just heard two days ago of an entertainment venue who had to cancel a show because the band didn’t want to stay in Iowa as it was unsafe.

A licensed massage therapist told me that she is hearing that across the state, LMT’s are getting calls from customers wondering why they still have to be masked.

One gym reported that people were entering unmasked and when asked to put a mask on, were angry and upset because “the Governor says we don’t have to”. They may not be back. Customers are entering and quickly leaving stores, restaurants and buildings with unmasked employees.

People were calling school districts wondering whether their own child’s school will continue to be masked. As above, “distort, confuse”….

A woman working in a doctor’s office has seen a pushback by patients as to why they are still required to wear a mask. “Distort, confuse…”

A friend just reported that when entering a large grocery chain today, she has noticed much less mask compliance and that was frightening to her. “Harming their well being…”

But perhaps the most tragic was reported by a front line worker in Iowa. He has given me permission to share this,

“The first week of Kim Reynolds dropping the mask mandate has passed and I would like to share what I have experienced. The day before the mask mandate was scheduled to expire, we already had customers coming in to the store unmasked that we probably had in the previous two weeks combined. Every one of them stated that the Governor said they didn’t have to wear them any more. I’ve had to explain to people that she stated that businesses were to take safety precautions as they see fit to protect their staff and customers. Our company is very adamant about their mask policy and our higher ups released a statement to our Iowa stores that they stand behind us 100% and realized that we would face repercussions from some customers. Over the last week, I have been told “I’m never shopping here again” , I’ve been threatened to be sued more times than I can count on both hands, and I’ve been threatened with bodily harm a handful of times. The latest of those threats being “I’ll beat your skinny ass”.

He goes on to share that co workers had been told that “they would come back with a gun”. “Sometimes when I’m getting ready for work I wonder if this will be the day that someone knocks me out or pulls a gun. The Governor has emboldened these people. It’s exhausting”. I return to “change their sense of self and harming their well being”

Like many victims who feel trapped within a home, a school, or a workplace, feeling trapped pushes up that fear and anxiety to sometimes unbearable pain. Like many victims of abuse in the home, school, workplace or community, we live here, we work here, we attend school here, our friends and families are here. That is what complicates the process. Living or working in a place you thought was safe, but now threatens your well being brings that unbearable pain.

Iowa is our home. And in that home, which should be a place of comfort and well being, we are not safe.

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