CORONAVIRUS

COVID-19 lawsuit immunity strikes 'balance,' Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds says

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signs into law House File 2627, which changes the state's professional licensing requirements, du
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signs into law House File 2627, which changes the state’s professional licensing requirements, during a Thursday ceremony at the Associated Builders and Contractors of Iowa in Grimes. (Erin Murphy/Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau)

GRIMES — Despite a state inspection reporting workers kept working with COVID-19 symptoms in a Dubuque nursing home where 11 residents died of the coronavirus, Gov. Kim Reynolds on Thursday signed into law a measure that shields businesses from many virus-related lawsuits.

Republican lawmakers earlier this month passed Senate File 2338, arguing it was needed to protect Iowa businesses from frivolous lawsuits as they reopen, while Democrats argued it removes critical protections for workers at long-term care facilities and manufacturing plants.

The Iowa Capital Dispatch reported this week that records from the state inspections and appeals department showed one worker in a Dubuque nursing home worked three shifts without wearing protective equipment while showing symptoms of COVID-19, and that the home’s administrator also worked while displaying symptoms. Both later tested positive for the virus, the records showed.

Reynolds on Thursday was asked if that report gave her any pause before signing the new law.

“It’s a balance,” Reynolds said at a bill-signing event. “We want to make sure that we have doctors and nurses and care facilities that are willing to provide these critical services, and we want to make sure that businesses feel confident in opening back up.

“But the bill also has appropriate exemptions that still permit some lawsuits for reckless or willful misconduct,” she said. “So I think it strikes the balance that it needs to.”

Reynolds said what was reported at the Dubuque nursing home was “something that shouldn’t happen.” But she also praised “a lot of long-term care facilities that are doing a phenomenal job.”

The Iowa chapter of the AARP on Thursday called for immediate, mandatory COVID-19 testing of staff and residents in all nursing homes and long-term care facilities in Iowa.

The Associated Press reported Thursday that the families of three workers who died after contracting the coronavirus in an Iowa meatplant outbreak have sued Tyson Foods and its top executives, saying the company knowingly put employees at risk and lied to keep them on the job.

Emergency extended

Reynolds on Thursday also extended the state’s public health emergency by another month, through July 25.

Under the current statewide proclamation, businesses are allowed to be open at full capacity but must employ social distancing measures.

The proclamation also clarified that high schools may resume athletic competitions. That put in writing a practice the governor already allowed; teams have been playing since June 15. At least a half-dozen have already temporarily shut down their seasons due to positive coronavirus tests among team members.

COVID-19 numbers

Statewide, Iowa’s most critical coronavirus numbers continue to trend in a positive direction.

The seven-day average of new deaths, at 2.4, is at its lowest point since early April, in the early stages of the virus’ impact on Iowa.

The seven-day average number of Iowans currently hospitalized by the virus is at its lowest since mid-April, and the seven-day average of new, virus-related hospital admissions is lower than it has been since the state started publishing the data in early April.

But the rate of spread has increased to 1.02, which means each case, on average, infects another 1.02 people. Anything over 1.0 indicates active spread in a state.

Reynolds said the rate of positive tests on Tuesday dipped below 10 percent for the first time: she said the positivity rate was 9.9 percent on Tuesday and 9.8 percent on Thursday.

“We’re asking Iowans to still be responsible for your own health, the health of your friends, and your family and others,” Reynolds said. “So, good job. We just need to continue being diligent and practicing safe measures, and we’re going to continue to see positive results moving forward.”

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Reynolds also said the state processed more than 3,000 tests for the virus on three consecutive days this week, meeting a goal established for TestIowa, the state’s expanded testing program which was the result of a $26 million contract with a Utah-based private health care company.

At the bill-signing event, Reynolds also signed into law House File 2627, which honors more work and training experience to be put toward professional licensing.

Comments: (563) 383-2492; erin.murphy@lee.net

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