CORONAVIRUS

Coronavirus response not political, Reynolds says

Record tally of hospitalizations reported, but ample beds available

Gov. Kim Reynolds holds a news conference Monday on COVID-19 at the state emergency operations center in Johnston. (Oliv
Gov. Kim Reynolds holds a news conference Monday on COVID-19 at the state emergency operations center in Johnston. (Olivia Sun/Des Moines Register)

JOHNSTON — As she directs the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds says her compass is informed by data and the advice of public health experts in her administration and the federal government — not politics.

Reynolds offered that assertion Monday during her daily briefing on the state’s response efforts shortly after she participated in a media conference call hosted by a pair of conservative economic think tanks and featuring fellow Republican governors who, similar to her, have started lessening mitigation requirements in their states.

“This isn’t political, and it shouldn’t be for anybody. And I don’t believe it is,” Reynolds said Monday during her state briefing. “It’s about trying to do the right thing in an unprecedented time to really manage the health and well-being of Iowans and their livelihood.”

The conference call was hosted by the conservative think tanks FreedomWorks and the Committee to Unleash Prosperity. The latter was founded by former Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes; Art Laffer, a former economic adviser to Republican President Ronald Reagan; and Stephen Moore, whom President Donald Trump proposed for a Federal Reserve Board seat but later pulled from consideration. He is member of Trump’s task force to reopen the U.S. economy.

The groups on Monday published a report that graded governors for how they have reopened their state’s economies amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The report gave eight of its nine ‘A’ grades to Republicans — including Reynolds — and 18 of its 20 ‘D’ and ‘F’ grades to Democrats, including the governors of New York and Washington, two of the states hit hardest by the virus.

Reynolds has lessened some mitigation requirements in 77 of Iowa’s 99 counties where the virus has not been confirmed as widespread.

“This isn’t political. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been able to stand here every day and talk to Iowans about making decisions based on data and metrics, based on the expertise that I have working for the citizens of Iowa” in the state and local public health departments, Reynolds said during the state briefing, which was held at the state emergency operations center at Camp Dodge in Johnston.

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Reynolds said the decisions she has made in an effort to limit the disease’s spread, including to cancel the remainder of the school year and order many business partially or entirely closed, have been the hardest she has made during her three years as governor.

“Were going to continue to make decisions based on great recommendations from a group of experts that I feel very confident in the information that they’re providing me,” Reynolds said.

Virus-related hospitalizations continue to increase in Iowa, though hospitals report they have ample beds and ventilators available.

The Iowa Department of Public Health reported Monday that 389 people in the state were hospitalized with the disease — the highest single-day total since the state began reporting the numbers on April 13.

Of those hospitalizations, 91 percent were reported in the hardest-hit areas of the state: eastern and central Iowa plus Woodbury County, according to state data.

One lighter-hit region, however, in the north central Iowa region that includes Mason City, worsened from a score of 5 to a 7 on the administration’s 0-to-12 scale of severity. A Public Health Department spokeswoman said the rating was driven by the number of people currently hospitalized there — five, with three on ventilators.

The scale guides some of the administration’s policy-making decisions. The worst areas of Iowa, which remain under tighter restrictions, score a 9 on the scale.

The state also confirmed 534 new cases of the virus, with 85 percent of them coming from the 22 counties where tighter restrictions remain until at least May 15.

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The daily number of new cases generally has increased over the past week as the state’s testing efforts have ramped up. although the latest tally is not a record.

The state confirmed four additional deaths as a result of COVID-19 — the lowest single-day total in nearly two weeks.

Those deaths were:

• Appanoose County: one person between 61 and 80 years old;

• Jasper County: one person between 61 and 80;

• Poweshiek County: one person 81 or older;

• And Wapello County, one person between 61 and 80. The death marked the first fatality from the disease reported in Wapello County.

Reynolds said a backlog of obtaining results from tests that accumulated over this past week as testing ramped up should be cleared, though her administration for days has declined to say how many results were behind.

An Eastern Iowa hospital last week told The Gazette it was taking five days to learn of results.

Reynolds also defended her administration’s decision to not separately report results from a new statewide testing program from other testing efforts.

Iowa’s newly expanded virus testing program, at TestIowa.com, was based on a program implemented by the same private health care company in Utah.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported the Utah program was producing test results that showed positive cases at less than half the rate of other testing programs there.

There is no way for the public to compare results from the Test Iowa program to other testing programs because the state does not report the results separately.

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Reynolds and state public health Deputy Director Sarah Reisetter said Monday there is no need to publish the results separately because the tests are being validated by experts at the State Hygienic Lab at the University of Iowa.

“I’ve spoken personally with (lab director Dr. Mike Pentella), he’s not going to run (testing) equipment if he doesn’t have confidence in the equipment and its performance,” Reisetter said. “So there would be no reason to separate out Test Iowa results separate from any other test results because the Test Iowa equipment is going through the exact same kind of validation that all of the other tests that are happening have done. So we’ll just continue to report positive test results regardless of the source as one positive number.”

The Salt Lake Tribune reported, though, that one of the areas of concern was the company’s test kits themselves, not only the equipment being used to run the samples.

The newspaper cited concerns among public health experts that the test kits provided by the company required a larger sample than usual from a person to trigger a positive result — raising the possibility that some people could test negative even if they have the disease.

Reisetter said that if someone continues to feel ill after being tested, he or she should contact a doctor.

John McGlothlen of The Gazette contributed to this report.

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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.