CORONAVIRUS

Coronavirus in Iowa, live updates for March 31: Undisclosed number of Quaker Oats employees test positive

The Quaker Oats plant in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
The Quaker Oats plant in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

4:45 P.M. IOWA RESTAURANT ASSOCIATION CREATES DISPLACED WORKER ASSISTANCE FUND

The Iowa Restaurant Association has announced the creation of an industry relief fund to assist hospitality workers displaced by the recent suspension of on-premise dining in Iowa restaurants and bars.

“Restaurants are cornerstones of their communities, and the employees are what make them shine. Thousands of these hospitality professionals are facing the devastating reality of sudden and unexpected unemployment,” said Jessica Dunker, President and CEO of the Iowa Restaurant Association. “People from across the state have asked how they can help, so we’ve created a designated fund within our existing non-profit foundation to direct 100 percent of the charitable dollars collected to provide relief for displaced Iowa hospitality employees.”

The Iowa Restaurant Association said a study has indicated 82 percent of restaurants and bars in Iowa have laid off employees. It estimates that tens of thousands of workers will be impacted by the layoffs.

Any sized contributions is welcomed and can be made at restaurantiowa.com.

2:53 P.M. GOV. REYNOLDS ANNOUNCES COVID-19 LEGAL HOTLINE

The state has established a legal hotline for people experiencing legal issues associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. The hotline can be accessed by calling (800) 332-0419. The hotline is being staffed by Iowa Legal Aid, the Iowa Bar Association and the Polk County Volunteer Lawyer Program.

The hotline was announced by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds during her daily press conferences.

Additional legal resources related to the COVID-19 pandemic can be found online at www.iowalegalaid.org.

2:38 P.M. MERCY BEGINS “STEP UP, MASK UP” INITIATIVE

Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids is launching an initiative called “Step Up, Mask Up” to encourage everyone in the community to wear a mask at all times when outside their homes.

Cloth masks are considered a first line of defense in slowing down the spread of COVID-19 by helping to shield an individual’s droplets from infecting those around them.

“We are incredibly thankful for the sewing volunteers who have stepped forward these past couple of weeks to support Mercy, and other healthcare organizations, in making cloth masks by the thousands. Your response has been tremendous and allows us to create a safer environment at our facilities for patients, visitors and staff,” said Dr. Timothy Quinn, Mercy’s executive vice president and chief of clinical operations. “We’d encourage the community to support one another, as well, by making masks for family members, friends and neighbors. As a community, we are at a critical time in reducing the spread of COVID-19. Our goal is to create a wave of support for each other in the community by asking everyone to wear a mask.”

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Beginning Tuesday, Mercy made homemade masks available to employees and patient visitors as they arrived to the hospital. Those receiving masks are asked to follow sanitary procedures to select, wear and launder them.

Those wishing to make masks for Mercy and for others can download a pattern and instructions here. They also may contact Isaiah Corbin at Mercy’s Volunteer Office at icorbin@mercycare.org.

2:29 P.M. ICR IOWA LAUNCHES ICR CAREER COLLECTIVE

ICR IOWA has announced the launch of the ICR Career Collective, which it describes as “an initiative designed to offer a rapid response to the changing regional workforce needs due to COVID-19.

The Career Collective includes a web page, electronic newsletter and Facebook group to support “rapid sharing of information among workforce partners, employers and workers. Resources and links to sign up for publications and social media can be found here.

ICR Iowa said employers who have immediate job openings they would like to share can submit them via a simple form on the ICR Career Connective website. Job seekers can review those opportunities on the web page and also in the ICR Career Collective Facebook Group.

2:22 P.M. SECRETARY OF STATE PATE URGES IOWANS TO VOTE VIA ABSENTEE BALLOT

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate said Tuesday his office plans to mail an absentee ballot request form to every active registered voter ahead of the June 2 primary. The forms are expected to be sent in middle to late April and will include prepaid postage for return mailing to all county auditors.

Pate said he is encouraging Iowans to vote via mail to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. He said there is approximately two million active registered voters in the state.

“The safety of voters while casting their ballots is our top priority,” Pate said. “The June 2 primary election will go on as scheduled because it’s important for Iowans to make their voices heard by voting. The safest way to vote will be by mail.”

Eligible Iowans who have not registered to vote or updated their registration should do so now to ensure the absentee ballot request form goes to the correct address. For the first time, Iowans who are 17 years old and will be 18 by November 3 can vote in the June primary. You can register to vote online or download a printable voter registration form here.

1:45 P.M. GAZETTE’S CORONAVIRUS FAQ PAGE UPDATED

The Gazette’s Rebecca Miller has updated her Frequently Asked Questions page about the coronavirus. It can be accessed here.

UIHC physician Katie Imborek said symptoms of the virus vary from person to person, calling them “tricky.”

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“As every day goes by, it becomes very difficult to actually be able to parse those out because the coronavirus has such nonspecific and tricky symptoms,” Imborek said. “It’s hard for us just to say, ‘Oh, that sounds like seasonal allergies,’ or ‘Oh that sounds like you just have a sore throat and a cough.’ That can be how the coronavirus presents.”

1:40 P.M. IOWA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALT GIVES GUIDANCE FOR WIC RECIPIENTS

The Iowa Department of Public Health is deploying a comprehensive approach to address food insecurity due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC, will continue for all current and new or returning WIC participants.

IDPH submitted and received approval of several federal waivers to Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) to ensure continued and expanded access to WIC foods.

Families First Coronavirus Response Act

• WIC is available to support you. WIC benefits will continue as normal. Call your clinic with questions.

• April’s WIC benefits will be available for use on Wednesday, April 1.

Purchasing WIC Items in the Store

When shopping for WIC items, please consider the following shopping tips during this time:

• When shopping, please be patient. Stores want to provide what you need, but they have been extremely busy and are working hard to stock the shelves as quickly as possible.

• When shopping, planning ahead and arriving at the store earlier in the day may help you find the products needed.

• When shopping, use the CDC guidelines for social distancing: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV. At this time WIC food purchases can only be redeemed inside of WIC approved stores.

• Call ahead and be sure your store’s hours haven’t changed.

• WIC foods will be available throughout the entire month of April - the rumors that WIC foods will run out is not true.

• Purchase what you would normally purchase. There is no reason to stockpile food. Both your benefits and the food products in stores will be available throughout the month.

1:20 p.m. grassley calls for stringent oversight of coronavirus relief package

United States Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa called Tuesday for “stringest oversight” of federal programs adminstering more than two trillion dollars in coronavirus relief. It is the largest aid package in U.S. history.

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“All across our country, people are hurting,” Grassley said. “Congress acted boldly to deliver the most expansive economic relief package in history to help families, workers and businesses weather the economic storm caused by the pandemic. Now, more than ever, it’s critical that we ensure that this money is used as intended.

“The administration, the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Relief, the Pandemic Relief Accountability Committee and all of us in Congress must keep a watchful eye on these programs to guard against fraud, waste and mismanagement. Taxpayers and those coping with the economic fallout from this pandemic deserve accountability and an investment of this magnitude demands it.”

12:35 P.M. ERNST AMONG SENATORS ASKING FOR TARIFF RELIEF

Iowa’s Joni Ernst is one of 10 United States Senators who has penned a letter to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, asking for a tariff deferral for businesses during the COVID-19 crisis.

“As numerous industries and individual businesses in the United States suffer extreme cash flow problems due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis, we urge you to immediately issue a directive to U.S. Customs and Border Protection to defer all tariffs for at least 90 days, or until the crisis passes,” the letter said.

The letter was written by both Democratic and Republican senators.

12:15 P.M. CATHOLIC MASSES CANCELED THROUGH END OF APRIL

Catholic Archbishop Michael Jackels of Dubuque announced the cancellation of holy week and Easter services throughout the archdiocese at least through the end of April.

The Archbishop will livestream mass each Sunday, as well as the Triduum, and will lead the rosary each Thursday. Visit here for more information.

Jackels said funerals, weddings and baptisms will continue to be held but limited to immediate family or no more than 10 people.

12:01 P.M. HY-VEE RESERVING “AISLES ONLINE” TIME SLOTS FOR HIGH-RISK CUSTOMERS

Hy-Vee announced Tuesday it is reserving time slots from 7 to 8 a.m. daily for at-risk customers who want to use its Hy-Vee Aisles Online shopping program.

The slots will be available beginning Thursday for those 60 years and older, expectant mothers and anyone with underlying health conditions that make them more susceptible to serious illness. Hy-Vee pharmacies also are open to serve those customers during that time slot.

All other customers are asked to please respect this hour reserved for these high-risk customers, and limit their online shopping orders to time slots available after 8 a.m.

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Hy-Vee has partnered with DoorDash to offer as many as 20,000 free deliveries to high-risk customers. Customers must use the promotion code “SPECIALDELIVERY” at checkout when ordering groceries online for delivery.

The Hy-Vee Aisles Online program can be accessed here.

11:50 A.M. DNR SAYS HUNTING, FISHING REGS UNAFFECTED BY COVID-19

A release from the Iowa Department of National Resources says the state’s hunting and fishing regulations are unaffected by the COVID-19 health emergency.

The release says despite rumors on social media, the DNR has no plans to eliminate seasons, relax regulations or change license prices.

“Fishing and hunting regulations exist to protect human safety as well as wildlife populations over the long-term,” said Dr. Dale Garner, Conservation and Recreation division administrator at the Iowa DNR. “We balance the long-term sustainability of Iowa’s natural resources with the well-being of Iowans, and will continue to take a thoughtful, science-based approach to Iowa’s hunting and fishing laws.”

For more information about Iowa’s hunting and fishing regulations, check out the DNR website.

11:40 A.M. UNDISCLOSED NUMBER OF QUAKER OATS EMPLOYEES TEST COVID-19 POSITIVE

At least one more employee at Quaker Oats’ manufacturing facility in Cedar Rapids has tested positive for the coronavirus, parent company PepsiCo said on Monday.

Multiple employees are quarantined and receiving medical care, consistent with guidance from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and other health authorities, said a PepsiCo spokesperson in an email.

The company has identified and notified employees who worked closely with the affected individuals and asked them to self-quarantine for 14 days.

PepsiCo’s spokesperson did not disclose further details, including a specific number of employees, citing privacy laws.

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PepsiCo last week confirmed one Quaker Oats employee in Cedar Rapids had tested positive for COVID-19, prompting the company to temporarily close certain lines and common areas at the facility for deep cleaning.

There currently is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of the coronavirus, PepsiCo said.

“PepsiCo continues to enforce already strict preventive safety and sanitation measures in all our locations,” said the spokesperson.

10:28 A.M. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION ADDS OPTIONAL ONLINE RESOURCES FOR STUDENTS, EDUCATORS

The Iowa Department of Education released Tuesday several optional resources for families and educators to use in support of student learning during school closures due to COVID-19.

The resources include interactive games, virtual field trips, coding activities and e-books.

“While they do not replace classroom learning, these resources are a great way for families, caregivers and educators to continue to engage students in their learning at home,” said Iowa Department of Education Director Ann Lebo. “I am grateful to our partners who came together to provide the content to make this resource page possible.”

The resources can be accessed at the Department of Education’s website.

10:05 A.M. IMON OFFERING FREE INTERNET AROUND THE METRO

ImOn Communications in Cedar Rapids is offering free public Wi-Fi at locations around the city to those who do not have it.

Free community Wi-Fi is available at NewBo City Market, McGrath Ampitheatre, the downtown area of Cedar Rapids, as well as Guthridge Park, Tucker Park and Clark Park in Hiawatha and the Ped Mall in Iowa City. The company said users should be able to access networks outdoors or from their vehicles.

“With school and public library closures, many of our citizens have lost their only access to the Internet,” said Patrice Carroll, CEO of ImOn. “ImOn offers free community Wi-Fi at various locations where people can access the Internet safely while still practicing social distancing.”

8:30 A.M. IOWANS ASKED TO HELP MAKE MASKS

Iowa is part of a national shortage of personal protective equipment needed for health-care workers, so Gov. Kim Reynolds is enlisting the help of individual Iowans to produce home-made fabric face masks that would hit under a medical-grade face shield.

“If you can sew, we need your time and talent to produce fabric face masks to protect Iowa’s front-line workers,” the governor said, in directing Iowans to the coronavirus.iowa.gov Web address to access guidelines and instructions issued by the state Department of Public Health. “These masks can be used in health-care settings under a face shield. If properly cleaned and disinfected, they can be worn multiple times and will help preserve other medical-grade PPEs,”

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Reynolds said during a Monday news conference. Iowans who produce the fabric masks can donate them to the health-care facility of their choice, but the governor advised to call first to find out how and where to drop them off.

“If you’re willing and able, we need your help,” she said.

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Support our coverage

Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please donate. Your contribution will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

All donations are tax-deductible.