The state of Iowa is launching a new initiative to encourage residents to wear masks in public to reduce the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. The announcement comes as the state surpassed 40,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 815 deaths. The Iowa Department of Public Health today reported 716 new positive cases with seven additional deaths. More than 28,800 people have recovered, the health department reported. “COVID-19 is far from over, and I don’t want to go backwards,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a recent video address and Tweet. “Whether it’s wearing a mask, social distancing, practicing good hygiene, or staying home when we’re sick, these simple steps continue to be the best defense against the virus.” The initiative, #StepUpMaskUpIA, comes as school districts across the state announce their plans to return to school next month, and as some major companies, such as Walmart, Aldi, Best Buy, Costco, Home Depot, Kohls, Lowe’s and Menards, Panera and Starbucks, begin requiring shoppers to wear a mask in their stores. Hy-Vee, while not requiring masks, has announced an initiative to hand out 3 million masks at its stores to shoppers who want them.