CORONAVIRUS

Gov. Kim Reynolds orders stricter steps in Northeast Iowa to fight coronavirus

Region that includes Cedar Rapids and Waterloo now rated worse on state scale

Map based on Iowa Department of Public Health assessment levels for coronavirus (COVID-19) on April 16, 2020. Northeast
Map based on Iowa Department of Public Health assessment levels for coronavirus (COVID-19) on April 16, 2020. Northeast Iowa has reached level 10, according to the state’s matrix. (John McGlothlen/The Gazette)
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JOHNSTON — Residents of 14 Northeast Iowa counties are under enhanced restrictions starting today covering their movements and gatherings in an effort to slow the accelerating COVID-19 spread that has hit long-term care facilities and meatpacking operations in the region particularly hard.

Gov. Kim Reynolds said Thursday the extra precautions were triggered by a state Department of Public Health “data-driven” determination that a spike in coronavirus activity in the region had pushed its overall score to 10 on a state scale of 12. The score could trigger a shelter-at-home order, though the governor did not use that phrase.

“This is due in large part to the long-term care facility outbreaks, the severity of the illness and the rate of hospitalization,” she told reporters at her Emergency Operations Center news conference. “But it also takes into account the increase of virus activity in that area of the state.”

Counties effected by the additional measures are Allamakee, Benton, Black Hawk, Bremer, Buchanan, Clayton, Delaware, Dubuque, Fayette, Grundy, Howard, Jones, Linn and Winneshiek. The new proclamation runs through April 30 unless modified.

Her order states that “all gatherings for social, community, recreational, leisure or sporting activities will cease through April 30. You may gather only with members of your immediate households. Limited exceptions will be made for weddings, funerals and other religious gatherings, which will continue to be restricted to 10 people or less.

“Individuals also are required to make every reasonable effort to stay at least 6 feet away from others when they are away from home. Businesses are encouraged to follow guidance provided by the Iowa Department of Public Health regarding infection-protection measures to protect employees and customers.”

Leaders of the Iowa Democratic Party, however, issued a statement Thursday criticizing the Republican governor for “inaction and mismanagement” that has made the pandemic a “dire situation” for workers.

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“From doctors and medical professionals to meatpacking and food supply workers, the lack of resources, oversight, and transparency poses unnecessary risks that are literally costing Iowans’ live,” according to the statement. “Instead of increasing testing, issuing a shelter-in-place order, and working to protect front-line workers and bolster our supply lines, the Reynolds administration is obscuring public information and undermining the safety of Iowa’s workers.”

Seven more people over the previous 24 hours pushed Iowa’s coronavirus death toll to 60. Among the victims were a middle-aged Louisa County individual in the 41-60 age range, a Tama County resident over 80, two individuals between 61 and 80 in Allamakee and Linn counties and three Polk County fatalities described as one adult, one older adult and one elderly adult of at least 81.

Nearly half of Iowa’s virus deaths have occurred in long-term care facilities where at least nine outbreaks have occurred, Reynolds said.

The latest were reported at Linn Manor Care Center in Linn County and the Lutheran Living senior campus in Muscatine County.

“We are continuing to monitor increased activity in long-term care and food production facilities in some areas of our state,” Reynolds said. “Because we have been ramping up our testing capacity over the last few weeks, we now have the ability to conduct targeted surveillance testing in these facilities.”

Along with 900 additional tests at the Tyson meat plant in Louisa County, Reynolds said the state deployed another 1,500 tests to the Tyson plant in Black Hawk County. Additional tests also have been deployed to long-term care facilities in Bremer, Muscatine, Johnson, Dubuque and Linn counties.

Next week, Iowa officials will launch a “Test Iowa”: initiative that Reynolds said will enable officials to conduct large-scale testing and contact tracing across the state.

“Test Iowa will allow us to ramp up our capacity to over 3,000 tests per day in addition to testing capacity that we currently have. We’re working on the operational plan now to deploy testing,” she said.

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The state is preparing for two labs to begin serology testing to identify antibodies in Iowans who already had and recovered from COVID-19.

Iowa posted 146 new positive cases, according to data issued Thursday, bringing the total to 2,141 in 82 of Iowa’s 99 counties, Another 660 Iowans tested negative for COVID-19, for a total of 18,534. Currently, 175 Iowans are hospitalized for virus symptoms and 987 have recovered — a 46 percent recovery rate, the governor said.

Reynolds said the state is “significantly increasing” the number of nurses and other health care professionals who will be conducting contact tracing, surveillance tests and prevention efforts as “dedicated strike teams” that will be deployed to long-term care facilities and large businesses where outbreaks are occurring or anticipated.

“COVID-19 is now part of our lives, but it will not always dictate how we live,” Reynolds insisted. “We will continue to monitor the data and adjust our mitigation strategies as necessary as we’re doing today in Region 6. But I believe that before long, we will see more signs of progress and we will begin to get life back to normal.”

The new Region 6 order does not require residents to wear masks when outside, but Reynolds recommended that “if you have a mask, use it” when leaving home.

Prohibitions in the governor’s proclamation were not to meant to restrict providing necessary care, including child care, medical care or other needed supports, to another person.

Cedar Rapids police this week cited four people with violating a previous order from Reynolds limiting groups to 10 or fewer. The citations came as part of the city’s investigation into a fight and shooting.

A police spokesman said officers are focused on educating the public about how to comply.

“This isn’t about more powers to law enforcement. This is about people doing the right thing to protect themselves, their loved ones and others from illness.” said public safety spokesman Greg Buelow.

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Also at Thursday’s news conference, Reynolds revealed she had enlisted Iowa native and actor Ashton Kutcher to narrate a public service announcement encouraging Iowans to stay home during the novel coronavirus spread.

The 30-second spot features scenes of Iowans engaging in various activities in the homes while Kutcher stresses the need for Iowans to help do their part.

Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

Kat Russell of The Gazette contributed to this report.

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