JOHNSTON — Although she did not establish a timeline, Gov. Kim Reynolds said Wednesday her administration is crunching the numbers on the coronavirus’ impact in Iowa to determine when temporarily closed businesses could reopen in portions of the state.
One day after she announced a project to exponentially expand testing statewide, Reynolds said some areas of the state have had fewer confirmed cases of the virus and indicated her orders requiring mitigation efforts like temporarily closing businesses could be relaxed in those areas.
During her daily news briefing Wednesday at the state emergency operations center in Johnston, Reynolds did not say when that may take place. During a radio interview earlier Wednesday, Reynolds said she hopes to make an announcement soon.
“We’re in a pretty good place throughout this state to have the conversation about how we in a responsible and safe manner start to open up the state. So we’re focused on that and I’m hoping this week or by the very first of next week that we’ll have some announcements to make on what that looks like,” Reynolds said during an interview on WHO-AM radio.
On Tuesday, Reynolds announced a newly expanded testing program that will enable the state to conduct roughly 540,000 tests over the coming months. On Wednesday she said that expanded testing, along with other public health data her administration has been tracking, will help inform when and where she will relax the mitigation efforts that have been in place since mid- to late March.
Also Wednesday, a “strike team” of state health officials and the Iowa National Guard opened a temporary site in Toledo to test staff members from a long-term care facility in Tama County. Officials previously announced there was an outbreak at Premier Estates at Toledo, where 50 cases had been confirmed earlier.
As of Wednesday, 75 percent of coronavirus cases in Iowa have been confirmed in just 10 counties, all in central or Eastern Iowa, according to state data.
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Woodbury is the only county in western Iowa with at least 100 confirmed cases. Its first death as a result of the virus was reported Wednesday, of someone between 61 and 80.
Six other deaths also were reported Wednesday: two people between 61 and 80 in Black Hawk County; one between 41 and 60 in Linn County; two in Muscatine County — one between 41 and 50 and the other 61 to 80; and person between 41 and 60 in Tama County.
In addition, 107 new cases of the virus were confirmed. Six counties posted double-digit increases, led by Polk County with 22.
On the map that the state public health department uses to rank the severity of the virus’ prevalence, on which the state is divided into six regions that are ranked on a 1-to-12 scale with 12 being the most severe, the northeast, southeast and south central regions all are rated 9 or 10, while the northwest, southwest and north central regions are rated no higher than 6.
In 15 of Iowa’s 99 counties, there have been no confirmed cases of the virus so far.
“We’re testing so we understand what the scope is and areas where those (cases) are located. But there are a whole lot of other areas of the state that are doing really, really well,” Reynolds said.
“We’ll be able to look at the data from a statewide perspective, from a regional perspective, from a county perspective, right down to a community and a ZIP code. So by being able to really look at the data and apply the metrics at that level, we can take a look at starting to open up different areas of the state.”
The number of people hospitalized statewide increased, particularly in northeast Iowa’s Region 6 that includes Cedar Rapids and Waterloo.
In Region 6, 90 people were hospitalized — more than a 36 percent increase. Of those, 28 were in intensive care.
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“We’re getting closer every day, but we aren’t quite there yet. We expect our numbers, and you’re going to see that, continue to increase over the next several days, especially as (new) sites open and more Iowans are tested,” Reynolds said. “We need to stay focused, (Iowans) continue to do your part, and together we will get through this and we’re going to be able to start opening Iowa back up.”
Reynolds said more than 80,000 Iowans in the first 24 hours completed assessments for the new Test Iowa program. The assessment asks a series of basic health care questions, then uses that information to determine whether an individual should be tested for the new coronavirus.
Reynolds did not say how many or what percentage of Iowans who completed the assessment were recommended to take a test. She did say more than 250 have scheduled an appointment to take a test.
The assessment can be taken at testiowa.com, or by calling 211 or 515-281-5211.
John McGlothlen of The Gazette contributed to this report.
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