JOHNSTON — Iowa communities with higher positive COVID-19 cases have made progress in controlling the virus’ spread, but Gov. Kim Reynolds said Thursday she plans to continue monitoring the trends before lifting an order that temporarily closed bars and limited restaurant hours in six counties.
Statewide, positivity rates are moving downward, but Reynolds said she is concerned new COVID-19 cases remain high in Johnson, Linn, Black Hawk, Story, Polk and Dallas counties — especially among Iowans in the 18- to 40-year-old age range — based on data in the past two weeks.
“We’ll continue to monitor those trends and make appropriate decisions based upon what we’re seeing,” said Reynolds, who recently won court rulings supporting her authority to order business closings and to require at least 50 percent in-person classroom learning in Iowa’s K-12 schools.
The positivity rates in those six counties, for the past two weeks, are Johnson, 29.45 percent; Linn, 19.57 percent; Black Hawk, 15.96 percent; Story, 29.96 percent; Polk, 16.16 percent; and Dallas, 14.7 percent. Johnson, Story and Black Hawk counties are home to the state’s three public universities.
Thirty-five of Iowa’s 99 counties are reporting two-week positivity rates above 15 percent, with three rural counties having the highest rates — Webster, 43.96 percent; Van Buren, 39.33 percent; and Humboldt, 31.52 percent.
Reynolds’ comments came on a day when Iowa posted its third-highest daily coronavirus death toll, with 21 fatalities. State public health officials said the spike likely resulted from reporting delays associated with confirming causes of death rather than a surge in COVID-19.
Thursday’s 883 new COVID-19 cases pushed the overall number of cases to 72,020 since March 8 and brought the state’s death count to 1,206, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health.
Flu season coming
With the approach of the flu season, Reynolds told reporters state officials are exploring options for providing a single, combined test that can detect both COVID-19 and influenza strains.
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The governor said the combined tests are not part of the Test Iowa contract, and that more study is needed regarding co-diagnostic testing this fall.
The governor said all school districts, with the exception of Des Moines, are following state guidelines for at least 50 percent in-person classroom instruction.
Three districts were approved to temporarily move to remote learning because of local public health conditions, and others having been granted waivers because of school building damage from the Aug. 10 derecho.
“Iowans want to get their kids back in school, back to playing sports and back to extracurricular activities, and I do, too,” Reynolds said. “I believe that our students can safely return to school and to fall sports, and I’ve consistently advocated for both.”
Reynolds said she hoped Des Moines school officials will meet with her and state education and public health officials to agree on ways to bring the district into compliance now that judges have ruled her proclamation was an appropriate exercise of gubernatorial authority and schools’ return-to-learn plans must receive state approval or face consequences.
“We’re living in unprecedented times, and this isn’t easy,” Reynolds said in discussing changes brought by the coronavirus pandemic. “We have to learn to live with it, and we have to start to bring some normalcy into our lives, and we can do that safely and responsibly.”
The governor expressed concern that a lack of in-person educational options would disproportionately harm “low-income and minority children and those living with disabilities” and could “lead to severe learning loss, especially for children with heightened behavioral needs.”
“For so many of our students, our schools provide everything from a safe and supporting learning environment, a hot meal, a caring mentor and critically important mental health services,” she told reporters. “Online learning is great for families that have the means to make it work, but it’s not so good for those who live in stressed economic conditions.”
Reynolds also defended as a “common-sense approach” her decision to tie in-person learning with extracurricular activities offered by K-12 schools.
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If district officials seek to temporarily move to remote learning because of public health conditions, then in-person extracurricular activities must be suspended during that time for the same reason, the governor said.
“If students can’t be in school safely, it makes no sense to have in-person extracurricular activities,” she said. “We believe that those same mitigation strategies apply.”
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