DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds and a top state public health official said Wednesday the information-gathering process is one reason the state does not identify new coronavirus outbreaks at businesses — like food processing plants — until asked by reporters.
Not immediately announcing outbreaks also gives those business owners time to notify employees and community members themselves, said Sarah Reisetter, deputy director of the Iowa Department of Public Health.
Reisetter on Tuesday confirmed outbreaks at Perdue Premium Meat Co. plants in Sioux City and Sioux Center after a reporter asked about the plants during the governor’s daily briefing on the state’s pandemic response.
During Wednesday’s briefing, Reisetter and Reynolds explained why the state is not automatically reporting such outbreaks and instead confirms them after being asked by the media.
“Sometimes it takes us a little bit of time to pull together the information and to understand whether there’s been an outbreak in a particular facility,” Reisetter said.
“It also provides an opportunity for the business to independently, outside of having to do it at a news conference, to notify their communities, as Perdue Farms did. It gave them the opportunity to take the lead in making that notification.”
Reisetter also noted state public health officials workers contact and interview individuals who may have come into contact with anyone with a confirmed case of COVID-19.
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Confirmed coronavirus cases spiked by more than 400 on Tuesday in Buena Vista County in northwest Iowa, home to two Tyson processing plants. Reisetter said Wednesday the department could not yet confirm an outbreak there.
When asked how Iowans can know they need to properly protect themselves if they are not notified about potential outbreaks in their communities, Reynolds said there may be a way for the state to work with local public health partners to inform residents when outbreaks occur.
The governor also defended her administration’s transparency in its pandemic response.
“We are really trying very hard to provide Iowans with an incredible amount of data to be as transparent as possible,” Reynolds said. “We can always do better. We’re always looking at the information we’re getting, making sure that we’re protecting the privacy of Iowans while trying to provide Iowans with the information that they need to also ensure their safety.”
State auditor Rob Sand weighed in Wednesday, issuing a statement that called for “full transparency” from Reynolds’ administration.
“In order for Iowans and public officials across the state to make good decisions about health and safety they need current data and facts. The public deserves full transparency from the governor’s office and from the Iowa Department of Public Health that isn’t contingent upon reporters asking,” Sands, a Democrat, said in the statement.
At the briefing Wednesday, Reynolds said Iowa’s coronavirus data transparency was graded “A+” by the COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer project launched by The Atlantic.
The project’s grading system includes such factors as whether the state’s central website is the best data source, whether both positive and negative test results are reported, whether hospitalization data includes data on the number of people in intensive care and on ventilators, and whether cases and deaths are broken down by demographics.
Iowa had one of 12 “A+” grades given by the project; only 10 states were graded “C” or worse. Neighboring Nebraska was given one of the “D” grades.
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The state on Wednesday confirmed 21 new virus-related deaths, contributing to a continued, steady climb in the seven-day average of daily new virus-related deaths in the state.
Current virus-related hospitalizations continued to plateau, and new admissions continued a downward trend.
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