WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — In a room with spaced out chairs filled with dozens of agricultural and food industry leaders, Vice President Mike Pence delivered remarks about the “stable” food supply chain in his socially-distanced political event at the Hy-Vee headquarters.
The vice president was about two hours later than expected, after his initial takeoff from Washington, D.C. was delayed due to his press secretary testing positive for COVID-19. Additionally, Pence met with Iowa faith leaders — at a social distance — to talk about the importance of resuming religious services.
The Surreal Experience of a Political Event During a Pandemic
Before entering the building where Pence held a roundtable discussion with food industry leaders, staffers and law enforcement took the temperatures of people one by one, as distanced as possible. Everyone had the standard security screening, as expected for going into the same vicinity as the vice president.
Once entering the ballroom where the event was set up, chairs were arranged six feet apart for guests, and the press had a wide riser to try to distance in the back.
Hand sanitizer was readily available near the entrance. Some staffers around the room wore masks. A few guests did, most did not. A Hy-Vee spokesperson said they did not require their staff nor guests to wear masks. The roughly 75 people grazed around the room speaking with others for about two hours waiting on the vice president.
Vice President Mike Pence Calls the Food Supply “Strong,” Praises Reynolds for COVID-19 Mitigation Efforts
Upon his arrival with Iowa’s top Republicans, Gov. Kim Reynolds and U.S. Sens. Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst, the vice president began his remarks with an acknowledgment of the strangeness of the times. None of them wore masks.
“We gather today in the state of Iowa at an extraordinary time in the life of our nation,” Pence said. “And I want to say to the people of Iowa that we’re never too far from remembering those who have been lost to the coronavirus here in this state.”
More than 230 Iowans have died from coronavirus complications. So far, the virus has infected more than 11,000 and parts of the state are some of the fastest-growing outbreaks in the country, according to public health data tracked by The New York Times.
As the numbers continue to climb and as the White House task force has expressed concern about Des Moines as a potential hot spot, the nation’s second-in-command leader again touted Iowa as a “success story.”
“From very early on, the strong steps and mitigation efforts have made a difference here. We grieve the loss of life here in Iowa, but the numbers speak for themselves,” Pence said. “The outbreak in Iowa has not been like we’ve seen in other states and other metropolitan areas around the country. It’s a tribute to your early, strong steps.”
This comes as more businesses in the state were allowed to reopen Friday — with restrictions. However, Reynolds was one of the few governors to not formally issue a stay-at-home order or shelter-in-place. Although, the Republican governor did move to shut down schools, churches, restaurants and other retailers for several weeks.
Iowa has also been home to large outbreaks at meatpacking facilities throughout the state. Roughly 2,000 state meatpacking employees have tested positive for the coronavirus. Pence told industry leaders that the food-supply chain has been one of America’s “great successes” during the pandemic, and thanked workers for putting their lives on the line to keep Americans fed.
“The food supply in America has remained strong,” Pence said. “It’s a time when the industry stepped up and met the moment. People have considered others more important than themselves and you’ve risen to the challenge.”
This week, Hy-Vee announced it would be limiting the amount of meat customers can purchase from stores, as a result of disruption in the food-supply chain from the meatpacking plant closures. In effect, the closures have left farmers in the dark, who have nowhere to sell their animals, something Grassley noted to the vice president.
“You just can’t appreciate enough the economic distress that comes from these low prices but also the emotional distress and remember this all starts at the family farm,” Grassley said. “We are losing hundreds on cattle and the price to consumers is going up, it’s just hard to understand that.”
This all comes after President Donald Trump signed an executive order for meatpacking plants to reopen and resume operations.