Joni Ernst, in Close Senate Race, Repeats a Debunked Coronavirus Theory

According to a tracking project by The New York Times, Iowa has had the most new virus cases per capita of any state over the last seven days. Ames and Iowa City, home to the state’s two largest public universities, rank second and fourth nationally among metro areas with the most cases per capita over the past two weeks, according to Times data.

Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, has balked at mandating masks be worn statewide, and has been criticized for barring K-12 schools from holding online-only classes unless the virus positivity rate reaches 15 percent or above in their counties. The state’s recent spike in cases has occurred as both K-12 and college students returned to campuses.

The governor only last week ordered bars and nightclubs to close in the two big university cities. Meanwhile, Iowa State University, in Ames, said it would allow 25,000 fans to attend a football game on Sept. 12, about 40 percent capacity for its stadium.

Ms. Greenfield, a businesswoman who, like her opponent, grew up on a farm, called on Wednesday for a statewide mask mandate, which Ms. Ernst has said should be a personal choice.

“We all want to beat this coronavirus pandemic, restart our economy, begin the school year safely, and get back to normal,” Ms. Greenfield said. “The science is clear — the best way to do that is if we all wear our masks.”

David Yepsen, a former political reporter and columnist at The Des Moines Register, said the coronavirus was just one issue unsettling the electoral landscape in a largely rural state that Mr. Trump easily won in 2016. Ms. Ernst, who lives in a county of just 5,700 people, should have a natural advantage over the Des Moines-based Ms. Greenfield, 56, who is appearing on a general election ballot for the first time.

“The governor’s managed to make everyone unhappy with the uncertainty over school openings, closing or not closing bars,” Mr. Yepsen said. “Ernst’s musing about conspiracy theories” about coronavirus plays into that unease, he added.