JOHNSTON — Gov. Kim Reynolds said she expects to spell out ways Tuesday of easing more restrictions on Iowans — ordered in March to slow community spread of the coronavirus — beginning later this week.
The governor pointed to positive signs, notably in Eastern Iowa, where she said the surge in positive COVID-19 test results has stabilized and started to decline, as indicators the limitations could be further relaxed when her current order expires Friday.
“I’ve been really impressed,” Reynolds told reporters during Monday’s briefing at the state’s emergency operations center. “We can continue, I think, to lessen the restrictions and open up our state and start to begin in a very thoughtful, safe and purposeful way to continue to reopen our economy.”
At the start of May, Reynolds relaxed her earlier closing orders for restaurants, malls, fitness centers and other businesses in 77 of Iowa’s 99 counties but kept restrictions in place in Allamakee, Benton, Black Hawk, Bremer, Dallas, Des Moines, Dubuque, Fayette, Henry, Iowa, Jasper, Johnson, Linn, Louisa, Marshall, Muscatine, Polk, Poweshiek, Scott, Tama, Washington and Woodbury counties. Then last week, she said dentists could resume providing services, and campgrounds, drive-in movie theaters, tanning facilities and medical spas all could reopen statewide and malls and retail stores in the 22 counties where coronavirus has been more widespread could reopen provided they still practice social distancing and operate at no more than half capacity. She allowed fitness centers to operate on an appointment basis only.
Now, she said, data tracked by state Department of Public Health officials and other members of her COVID-19 pandemic team as well as an increase in the number of tests conducted daily have given her confidence she can revisit provisions of emergency proclamation and allow some to expire Friday but possibly extend others through May 31.
“Iowans have been incredibly responsible” in making a “turnaround” in some of the trends, Reynolds said.
At the same time, Monday’s data issued by state health officials indicated six more people died — two in Black Hawk County and one each in Linn, Muscatine, Polk and Woodbury counties — bringing to 271 the number of Iowans killed by the coronavirus pandemic. Another 414 Iowans tested positive for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, bringing that total to 12,373 with 2,369 in Polk, 1,676 in Woodbury, 1,512 in Black Hawk and 841 in Linn counties. Two more outbreaks were announced in long-term care facilities in Dallas County, bringing that statewide total to 32, and a total of 394 Iowans were hospitalized as of Monday, Another 5,249 Iowans have recovered after testing positive.
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Reynolds attributed much of the surge in Iowa’s coronavirus numbers to the work of strike teams that have been deployed to communities with outbreaks.
A total of 77,792 Iowans have been tested and 340,220 have taken a coronavirus assessment at TestIowa.com.
She said a drive-through Test Iowa location will be opened Wednesday in Ottumwa, joining ones that opened Monday in Davenport, Saturday in Crawford County and earlier sites opened in Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, Sioux City and Waterloo.
“We know that virus activity will exist in our communities until a vaccination is available, but through expanded and targeted testing, case investigation and tracing and by continuing to take preventive measures,” she said, “I believe we can and will be able to contain and manage the virus and balance the health of Iowans with the health of our economy.”
Reynolds said more than 9,400 employees of 14 Iowa manufacturing and meat processing facilities have been tested for COVID-19. Another 1,324 staff and residents who work in 115 long-term care facilities around Iowa also have been tested, she said.
“Expanding testing in a targeted way such as this helps us confirm how the virus is spreading and while it drives our positive case count up for the short term,” she said, “more importantly it helps inform us how to effectively manage virus activity for the long term.”
State Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, said data issued by the Public Health Department indicated positive cases have risen faster in the 77 counties where Reynolds has loosened restrictions compared with the rest of the state for the past 11 consecutive days.
“The tragic news today that six more Iowans died from COVID-19, bringing the total for the last seven days to 83, is a reminder that we need to do even more to slow down and stop the spread of this dangerous and highly contagious disease,” Hogg said in a statement.
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The Republican governor told reporters there has been reduced case counts in Eastern Iowa hot spots — Linn, Johnson, Washington and Louisa counties — while virus activity is increasing in central and western Iowa counties.
“Polk County has the highest number of positive cases in the state,” she said, “which is to be expected because the Des Moines metro area has the most concentrated population in our state.”
Reynolds said Iowa is among a handful of states getting a shipment of 400 vials of Remdesivir, the drug that has recently been approved as a treatment for COVID-19 patients. State public health officials are deciding how it will be distributed to pharmacies and provide advice to doctors about prescribing it, she said.
“Based on who benefits most from the drug,” Reynolds said, “and we want to make sure that when we’re administering it, that the physician is connected with someone that has had experience with the drug.”
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John McGlothlen of The Gazette contributed to this report.
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