CORONAVIRUS

Data driving coronavirus response decisions, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds says

Gov. Kim Reynolds holds a news conference Monday at the State Emergency Operations Center in Johnston. Her administratio
Gov. Kim Reynolds holds a news conference Monday at the State Emergency Operations Center in Johnston. Her administration said it looks at a wide variety of data in making recommendations to the governor on how best to respond to the spreading COVID-19. (Des Moines Register via Associated Press)

JOHNSTON — Medical data like the number of hospitalizations and the length of stays is at the heart of decisions made by Gov. Kim Reynolds’ administration as it determines whether to implement sweeping coronavirus mitigation strategies like closing schools and businesses, state officials said Monday.

Reynolds and state Department of Public Health Deputy Director Sarah Reisetter said during a news conference they consider a number of factors and data points when deciding how best to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Throughout its response to the novel coronavirus since the first cases were confirmed here early this month, Iowa has been more hesitant than some other states, including neighboring states, when implementing drastic mitigation strategies.

For example, most neighboring states ordered their public schools closed before Iowa gave its recommendation March 15. And Iowa has not issued a shelter-in-place order while Illinois and Wisconsin have.

Reisetter said the Health Department, when determining whether to take significant mitigation steps, looks at medical data including the rate of hospitalizations, lengths of hospital stays, the anticipated spread of a disease within a particular community and the rate by which people with underlying health conditions are becoming affected.

She said the state also is in constant communication with county and other local officials.

“There are a number of factors like that we look at. And we look at the whole picture,” Reisetter said. “We are in the process of having those conversations every day and continuing to evaluate what’s happening here in our state, as well as what’s happened in other states and other countries as we look to make those recommendations to Gov. Reynolds.”

Reisetter said the Health Department’s analysis, at this point, does not suggest Iowa needs a shelter-in-place order that would require Iowans to remain in their homes other than for essential errands like grocery shopping or getting health care, even though some other states have delivered such an order.

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“As we have done all along throughout this response, as soon as the Department of Public Health comes across information or reaches a conclusion that more aggressive community mitigation guidelines or requirements are necessary, we will advise Gov. Reynolds about that immediately,” Reisetter said. “We just haven’t quite gotten there yet. And we hope that by people staying home, specifically and especially when they’re ill, that we will be able to prevent some of those more strict mitigation measures. But we’re prepared to make that recommendation when the data shows us that it’s time.”

Reynolds said some state data suggests Iowans are heeding her calls to limit social interaction as much as possible to curb the virus’ spread and avoid overwhelming the state’s health care systems. She said state transportation data shows overall traffic is down by almost half, but truck traffic remains normal. Reynolds said that shows essential goods are being delivered while Iowans are avoiding unnecessary travel.

“We were looking at the numbers over the days since we’ve made the recommendations and laid out the different policies that we put in place, and you can consistently see the numbers going down,” Reynolds said. “So that’s an example of different metrics that we’re looking at to help us understand that if what we’re asking Iowans to do is working, if we need to take additional steps, and what that looks like moving forward.”

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