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Column: My mom is worried about COVID-19
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Column: My mom is worried about COVID-19

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Ed Tibbetts

Tibbetts 

Since the start of the pandemic, I've worried about my 79-year-old mother.

She lives in Texas with my older sister. She's in relatively good health, but at her age she should not get infected with the coronavirus.

We talk frequently, but I've noticed she's calling here more often.

She hasn't really said it, but I can tell: She's worried.

The coronavirus is spreading like wildfire.

In Iowa, not Texas.

My mother is worried about her family here, not herself.

My mom moved to San Antonio 20 years ago, after retiring. I've missed her and wondered whether she wouldn't be happier in Iowa where she grew up and still has family, not just mine.

Still, it's clear she's happy there.

These days, she has reason to be. The per capita rate of coronavirus infection there is a fraction of what it is where her son lives. The rate of infection in Scott County, Iowa, is eight times higher than it is in Bexar County, Texas, according to the New York Times database.

It's true that Texans are worried about rising infections. The local news reported the positivity rate in Bexar County was up a percentage point from the previous week, to 9.4%. Hospitalizations still are below a state threshold signifying trouble, which is good. But a local government official there said she is ready to take action if things change.

In Iowa, meanwhile, the positivity rate reported by the state is 22%. Johns Hopkins University reports a 7-day moving daily average of over 50% Hospitalizations have doubled.

I can see why my mother is calling more often.

I've lived in Iowa practically my whole life. I've visited Texas, and I sometimes have thought it might be nice to live in a place with a more temperate climate.

Still, it would be a culture shock. Many Iowans see Texas as the Wild West; a place where individual freedom is waved like a flag and government is often treated like the enemy.

Much of that is stereotype, of course, but I imagine there is some basis for it. Texans have tended to be more conservative. They don't like being told what to do, and many can't stand government. Some are pretty vocal about it, too.

Still, there are limits.

I've followed the Texas news since the pandemic began.

Until last month, their bars had been closed since June by order of the governor, Greg Abbott, a Republican. He first shut down the bars in mid-March, but allowed them to reopen a couple months later — only to shut them down again over the summer after cases spiked. He said he regretted his earlier reopening order.

This is much different than in Iowa, where Kim Reynolds has taken a much more relaxed approach.

I struggle with the idea of placing restrictions on businesses, whether it's in Texas, Iowa or Illinois. I know these measures will help bring down the infections and save lives. But they come at a cost. And it's a cost I'm not paying; others are.

Masks are an easier call. Abbott required masks in June. Reynolds only announced a mask "mandate" on Monday after weeks of disdaining such measures and working to prevent local governments from enacting them. But, then, hers isn't much of a mandate. It has broad exceptions and ambiguities. Reynolds' mask mandate has so many holes, it's more political cover than face covering.

Someday, some smart scientists and public policy experts will do an after-action report on all the measures taken by each of the states to try to deal with the coronavirus. They will account for the economic costs, the health impacts and the effect the government measures have had across the broad spectrum of activity. They'll tell us their findings about which strategies were the wisest, and which had the greatest economic costs and life-saving impacts.

I'm sure we will argue about who was right then, just as we are now.

At the moment, though, I can tell you this: I miss my mom, and I'm sorry she won't be visiting Iowa for the holidays. But in the age of the coronavirus, I'm glad she's a resident of Texas.

Ed Tibbetts is editorial page editor of the Quad-City Times and Dispatch-Argus.

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