CORONAVIRUS

Reynolds: Prioritize both health and economy in coronavirus pandemic

'At point where we can and must strike a balance'

Medical workers conduct a coronavirus test at the Kirkwood Community College Test Iowa site in Cedar Rapids on Thursday,
Medical workers conduct a coronavirus test at the Kirkwood Community College Test Iowa site in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, May 14, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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JOHNSTON — Gov. Kim Reynolds expressed confidence Monday in her “phased-in” plan to jump start the state’s economy, saying Iowa businesses and residents have responsibly taken safe, measured steps to balance competing issues with the desire of keeping the spread of COVID-19 in check.

“We’re seeing some really positive things,” Reynolds told a briefing at the state’s emergency operations center on a day the state posted its second straight day of lowered coronavirus daily death counts: four on Monday following five reported Sunday.

So far, Iowa has registered 355 COVID-19 deaths and 14,955 confirmed cases — although 7,324 Iowans have recovered but 382 remain hospitalized. Of those in the hospital, 121 are in intensive care and 85 are on ventilators.

Reynolds marked the start of the 11th week since the virus was first detected March 8 in Iowa by telling Iowans “we’re at a point where we can and must strike a balance between managing virus activity for the long term and getting our economy up and running again. It’s not a matter of prioritizing one over the other. It’s about prioritizing both.”

Since her order allowing more business reopenings under restrictions was not a mandate, the governor said, some merchants whose “livelihoods are on the line” have remained closed until they feel they can operate safely and some Iowans are choosing to stay at home.

Reynolds said she is not willing to risk the health of Iowans or the health of Iowa’s economy, noting that “the long-term consequences of keeping businesses closed are far-reaching and could have an even greater impact on Iowans than the virus itself.”

Reynolds credited aggressive testing, robust and strategic outbreak investigations, a gradual return to business at half capacity in many cases and a regimen of hand-washing, social distancing, crowd restrictions and a suggested use of masks with keeping health care facilities from being overwhelmed.

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“We’ve been able to do that,” said Reynolds, who partially reopened restaurants, malls, fitness centers and a host of other businesses and activities in 77 counties on May 1 and expanded them along with more retail and service activities statewide last Friday.

“It’s stabilize, recover and grow,” said Reynolds, who seemed to indicate the state’s peak in positive COVID-19 cases occurred 18 days ago when Iowa posted high counts of 737 on May 1 and 757 on May 2. Those counts included targeted testing at meatpacking plants hit with surging cases among employees.

A sizable list of other business — including bars, indoor theaters, casinos and amusement parks — await word from Reynolds if they will be able to reopen May 28.

“We’ll continue to monitor the data as we continue to ease restrictions,” she said Monday, noting she has consulted University of Iowa models and projections but relies “more heavily” on her public health team and real-time data.

Along with Monday’s good news that the state had ended a string of days where Iowa posted double-digit death counts, the daily tally of Iowans testing positive for the respiratory illness slipped to 304.

“We continue to trend in the right direction, further validating that the time is right to move in the recovery phase and to begin reopening Iowa,” she said.

One in 33 Iowans, or 103,148, have been tested so far for the novel coronavirus as the state has started to ramp up its testing options. Of those who have tested positive, 42 percent are in the 18-40 age group and another 37 percent are aged 41 to 60. The most deaths, however, 88 percent, have occurred in people aged 61 and older.

Polk County has the most positive cases with 3,001 and the most deaths with 81. Linn County has reported 70 deaths, followed by Muscatine County with 33, Black Hawk County with 30 and Tama and Woodbury counties each with 17.

Woodbury has reported 2,278 positive cases, followed by Black Hawk with 1,603 and Linn with 899.

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A online “dashboard” providing COVID-19 data, which was cited in an article Sunday by The Gazette for failing to convey useful local information, has been revamped several times.

Reynolds said that coronavirus.iowa.gov is being updated again to provide “real-time” data with “rolling” numbers that will replace once-daily case counts.

She also said the state is opening at call center for Iowans seeking information about coronavirus testing.

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

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