CORONAVIRUS

Gov. Kim Reynolds: 'I didn't just rip the Band-Aid off'

Governor explains why she rejected warning from UI health researchers

Iowa's reported deaths from coronavirus, by county. (Image from interactive shaded counties map)
Iowa’s reported deaths from coronavirus, by county. (Image from interactive shaded counties map)
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JOHNSTON — Gov. Kim Reynolds said Wednesday the state’s ability to increase coronavirus testing, combined with a limited number of confirmed cases in vast areas of the state, is why she did not heed the advice of University of Iowa medical experts who warned her days ago against relaxing mitigation strategies.

UI health researchers sent two reports to Reynolds earlier this month, one warning there is “considerable uncertainty” over how many coronavirus-related illnesses and deaths the state will see and that “prevention measures should remain in place.”

Reynolds eschewed those warnings when, earlier this week, she declared some businesses in 77 counties — including restaurants and bars that serve food — may reopen to in-person customers starting Friday, provided they implement prescribed social distancing standards.

Reynolds also said in-person church services and farmers markets may resume in all 99 counties, again with recommended social distancing measures.

During her daily news briefing on the state’s response to the pandemic, Reynolds said Wednesday that data collected by the Iowa Department of Public Health about the way the virus is spreading in different parts of the state, in addition to increased testing from a new program that started last weekend, gave her administration confidence to loosen some restrictions. In 22 counties, including Linn and Johnson, most restrictions remain in effect until May 15 unless changed.

The top 11 counties in Iowa account for more than 82 percent of the confirmed cases in the state, and the top eight counties account for more than 80 percent of virus-related deaths.

Reynolds said over each of the past two days, more than 90 percent of newly confirmed cases were in the 22 counties.

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“I think it makes sense to start to loosen up in areas that have seen little to no virus activity and to do it in a responsible manner,” Reynolds said during the briefing at the State Emergency Operations Center at Camp Dodge in Johnston. “It’s not sustainable for us to continue to lock the state down. We need to start to open it up in a responsible manner in areas that we feel we’ve seen a stabilization and a downward turn in some of the other things that we’re looking at to start to open them up.”

Reynolds defended her strategy on a day her administration reported the state’s highest daily death toll from the virus so far — 12. The state now has confirmed 148 coronavirus-related deaths since the virus first appeared here in early March.

A third of the deaths reported were in Linn County. They were of a person between 41 and 60; two people between 61 and 80; and one person age 81 or older.

Other deaths were: A Black Hawk County resident age 81 or older; a Dubuque County resident between 61 and 80; a Jasper County resident age 81 or older; a Marshall County resident age 81 or older; a Muscatine County resident age 81 or older; a Polk County resident age 81 or older; a Pottawattamie County resident between 18 and 40; and a Washington County resident age 81 or older. They marked the first virus-related deaths reported in Jasper and Marshall counties.

Hospitalizations also continue to increase, with 323 Iowans hospitalized for the virus, 42 of which were new admissions in the past 24 hours, according to state public health data.

However, consistent with Reynolds’ explanation for her partial relaxing of some mitigation strategies for businesses, those figures also were concentrated to the areas of the state hardest hit by the virus so far.

Two of the state’s six health care regions combined had just four virus-related hospitalizations, none of which were admitted in the past 24 hours, according to state public health data.

“I didn’t just rip the Band-Aid off or flip the light switch,” Reynolds said. “We’re doing it in a reasonable, phased-in approach. We’ll continue to look at the data and we’ll continue to work with Iowans. And I believe in Iowans, and I know that they will do the responsible thing.”

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The state also confirmed 467 new confirmed cases of the virus Wednesday, which is roughly in line with what those numbers have looked like recently as the state has ramped up testing efforts over the past week and as outbreaks have occurred at least a handful of meat processing plants and long-term care facilities.

Reynolds said nearly 230,000 Iowans have completed the online health assessment at testiowa.com, the website for the state’s new program designed to increase statewide testing for the disease. She has encouraged all Iowans to take the assessment, which determines whether individuals should be recommended to be bested.

Reynolds said in the first week since the website launched, roughly 2,300 individuals have scheduled to be tested for the virus after receiving the recommendation from the program.

The first Test Iowa testing site was launched last weekend in Des Moines. A second one opened Wednesday in Waterloo, and Reynolds said two more are set to open next week in Woodbury and Scott counties.

One will open in mid-May in Cedar Rapids, city officials have said.

John McGlothlen of The Gazette contributed to this report.

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