CORONAVIRUS

Iowa faces 'staggering' unemployment claims from coronavirus

State fields as many claims in a day than it did in a month

Gov. Kim Reynolds holds a news conference Friday to provide COVID-19 updates in Iowa at the State Emergency Operations C
Gov. Kim Reynolds holds a news conference Friday to provide COVID-19 updates in Iowa at the State Emergency Operations Center in Johnston. Reynolds announced that Iowa now has 45 positive COVID-19 cases, as well as a total of 650 available test kits. (Olivia Sun/The Des Moines Register)
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JOHNSTON — The number of unemployment claims already being filed as a result of efforts to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus is “staggering,” Iowa’s workforce development director said Friday.

Official numbers will not be published until early next week, Iowa Workforce Development Director Beth Townsend said at a news conference with state officials providing the latest on COVID-19’s impact.

“It’s pretty staggering to see the number of claims that we’re receiving,” Townsend said. “Essentially, what we’re receiving on a daily basis is what we would receive in a busy month.”

With one new COVID-19 case reported Friday, there now are 45 confirmed cases in Iowa. The latest case, the Health Department said, is a person between 41 and 60 in Eastern Iowa’s Allamakee County. Separately, Johnson County officials reported that six of the 22 people in the county who had tested positive have recovered. There have been no deaths from the virus in the state.

Gov. Kim Reynolds said her administration plans to compile a financial relief package for small businesses, and she may use some of the roughly $20 million approved by state lawmakers for coronavirus response efforts. Reynolds said that package could be introduced next week.

“Next week we have a whole team working on a small business package and what we can do to really help stand back up some of our businesses that have been really impacted by the pandemic,” Reynolds said. “We’re continuing to review things that we need to do that can help our small business and Iowans, building on what they’re doing at the federal level as well.”

State public health Deputy Director Sarah Reisetter said testing for the virus remains selective because of the limited supply of kits.

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Reynolds and state public health officials have said not every Iowan needs to be tested, and have encouraged Iowans showing mild symptoms to remain self-quarantined at home.

The state hygienic lab as of noon Friday had the capacity to test 620 people, Reynolds said. Private labs also are testing Iowans, but their testing capacity in Iowa cannot be quantified because they test in multiple states, officials said.

The state hygienic lab will not conduct a test unless the individual meets one of the following criteria: is hospitalized with fever, respiratory failure and no alternate diagnosis; is roughly 60 years of age or older with fever and respiratory symptoms; has a chronic medical condition; has a fever or respiratory illness and lives in a long-term care facility, dorm or correctional facility; is an essential services worker, like health care providers, firefighters, law enforcement or residential facility staff.

“We do have a limited number of tests in Iowa. … And as you heard the governor say, we are working to expand testing capacity in our state. And we’re working on that every single day,” Reisetter said. “So we do fully expect at some point in time for testing capacity to expand. ... It’s really important that those tests be available for people who are hospitalized, for our essential workers like our health care workforce, our law enforcement officers, and those sorts of things.”

Private labs will start reporting both positive and negative coronavirus tests in Iowa, Reynolds said Friday. Previously, the state was reporting negative tests but private labs were not. Federal reporting laws were amended Thursday.

Also Friday, Reynolds expanded Iowa’s state disaster declaration by temporarily removing more state regulations to assist individuals and businesses impacted by coronavirus. Reynolds:

• Suspended the collection of penalties and interest as it relates to property taxes.

* Suspended some evictions in certain circumstances.

• Permitted the sale of carryout, delivery or drive-through alcohol in sealed containers for bars and restaurants.

Due to the fluidity of COVID-19’s spread and impact, Reynolds said starting Monday she plans to conduct a daily afternoon news conference to keep Iowans informed of the latest developments and efforts from state government.

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“I fully understand the impact that these decisions have on Iowans and your daily lives. But the more that we do now, on the front end, the sooner that we will get through this and we hopefully can get our lives back to normal,” Reynolds said. “Again, I can’t say this enough: It’s going to take every Iowan working together to be a part of the solution. And I know Iowans are doing their part. It’s who we are. It’s what we do.”

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Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

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All donations are tax-deductible.