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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Gov. Kim Reynolds will end Iowa’s public health disaster emergency proclamation later this month and, as a result, the state public health department is changing how it publicly reports COVID-19 data.
The emergency proclamation will on at 11:59 p.m., Feb. 15, and with it the state’s ongoing pandemic response will shift to managing the coronavirus “as part of normal daily business.”
“We cannot continue to suspend duly enacted laws and treat COVID-19 as a public health emergency indefinitely,” Reynolds said in a statement Thursday. “After two years, it’s no longer feasible or necessary.
“The flu and other infectious illnesses are part of our everyday lives, and coronavirus can be managed similarly.”
The move comes as new cases and hospitalizations have declined in recent weeks across the state, but as COVID-19 outbreaks at long-term care facilities continue to spike.
The Republican governor signed the proclamation March 17, 2020, to shift resources to respond to the public health emergency and to suspend state laws to support hospitals’ and public health agencies’ response to the pandemic. The proclamation also has been used to shut down businesses, limit public gatherings and set mask requirements in indoor settings, among other mitigation strategies.
On Feb. 16, the state will be decommissioning its two state-run websites that provided key information for Iowans on COVID-19. One is vaccinate.iowa.gov, which has a COVID-19 vaccine appointment finder tool for users.
The other is coronavirus.iowa.gov, the state’s public COVID-19 data hub for regular reports on new cases, hospitalizations, deaths, vaccinations and other metrics used to measure the virus’ impact on Iowa.
Iowa Department of Public Health will continue to report COVID-19 data publicly each week on its website, but will change how it reports that data to mirror how the department reports other respiratory activity, such as the flu, statewide.
IDPH interim Director Kelly Garcia told reporters the public health department “remains committed” to maintaining disease surveillance of COVID-19.
“While COVID-19 reporting will look different, Iowans should be assured the state will continue to review and analyze COVID-19 data and other public health data daily, just as we always have,” she said during a media briefing Thursday.
Among these changes, IDPH no longer will require long-term care facilities to notify the state of an outbreak, defined as three or more COVID-19 cases among residents. Instead, that data will be reported by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
The state public health department also will stop requiring entities from reporting negative test results, a decision driven by the increasing availability of rapid at-home testing options.
Hospitals no longer will be required to report its data to state officials once Iowa’s proclamation expires, but they still will need to report that information to federal officials. Garcia said IDPH will rely on that source for information on COVID-19 hospitalizations moving forward.
Beginning Feb. 16, coronavirus data available on the IDPH website will include:
- Positive tests since March 2020, categorized by age, sex and race
- Positive tests in the past seven days
- Case counts by county
- Deaths since March 2020
- Epidemic curve (epi curve) since March 2020
- Variant breakdown by week.
State public health officials also will continue to provide data on COVID-19 vaccines, including the total number of vaccines administered, the total number of boosters administered and the number of fully vaccinated residents.
IDPH continues to receive significant federal funding to support its pandemic response, which will be directed toward its vaccination campaigns as well as coronavirus testing and surveillance. However, the department hopes to direct funding toward other emerging crises in Iowa, such as a cluster of youth suicides in central Iowa, Garcia said.
In addition, the move will allow public health officials involved with COVID-19 response to return to pre-pandemic responsibilities that have been put aside during the past two years, she said.
“Our work continues,” Garcia said. “We’re not ratcheting back necessarily on things we’re doing, we’re shifting focus and picking back up the work that we have shelved at the expense of some very important issues for Iowans.”
The state will continue to operate Test Iowa, the free at-home coronavirus testing program operated at the State Hygienic Lab in Coralville.
COVID-19 vaccine allocation statewide will continue at the same pace, and is not affected by the expiring proclamation, Garcia said.
Garcia noted many states nationwide already have discontinued public health proclamations.
Earlier this week, Iowa State Auditor Rob Sand released a report stating his office “did not identify any significant concerns regarding the integrity” of the coronavirus data publicly reported by state public health department.
Garcia said she saw that report as an endorsement of trustworthiness of IDPH’s efforts to inform the public.
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