CORONAVIRUS

Announcement of more Iowa business reopenings coming

Tuesday's 18 virus-related deaths was second highest tally

State Public Health Medical Director Dr. Caitlin Pedati speaks as Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, right, looks on, while updatin
State Public Health Medical Director Dr. Caitlin Pedati speaks as Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, right, looks on, while updating the state’s response to the coronavirus outbreak during a news conference at the State Emergency Operations Center, Thursday, April 23, 2020, in Johnston, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, pool)

JOHNSTON — After Tuesday’s false start, business owners, workers and residents in the 22 Iowa counties hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic hope to get some good news Wednesday from Gov. Kim Reynolds when she loosens some of the restrictions set to expire this week.

Reynolds — who is on a “modified quarantine” after spending time last week with White House officials and staff who had been in contact with aides who tested positive for the new coronavirus — had planned to make the announcement Tuesday, the same day Iowa posted its second-highest number of daily deaths from the virus with 18.

“I’m still reviewing some information with the Department of Public Health and my team today and will be announcing the new changes tomorrow,” Reynolds told her daily news briefing at the state emergency operations center. “I know that Iowans and businesses are eager to know what’s next, but as I’ve said all along, these decisions must be made carefully and backed by data. I look forward to providing that update tomorrow.”

She had indicated Monday she planned to lift or modify some provisions of a public health disaster emergency proclamation she issued in March and then twice extended. The orders meant to slow community spread of the novel coronavirus have shut down many parts of Iowa’s economy and idled over 200,000 workers. The governor also expected to extend some provisions — including regulatory relief — until the end of the month.

Nearly two months ago, Reynolds declared a statewide emergency that included limiting gatherings to 10 people, requiring social distancing and closing bars, restaurants, casinos and other businesses in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Schools voluntarily closed, but she later ordered them shut down through the end of the academic year.

At the time of her initial orders, the state had 23 confirmed cases but no deaths from the respiratory disease. Tuesday, Iowa reported a total of 12,912 positive COVID-19 cases and a death toll of 289. The most Iowans to have died in one-day period from the virus was 19 on May 5.

Metrics and testing by the state Department of Public Health convinced Reynolds she could begin to reopen 77 of Iowa’s 99 counties beginning May 1 with limitations that included reduced capacity and increased sanitation for businesses.

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Then starting May 8, she allowed dental offices, campgrounds, churches and a few other facilities to reopen statewide with restrictions, and also some businesses including malls within the 22 hardest-hit counties to reopen with restrictions.

Those 22 counties are 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.

Still, restaurants within those 22 counties remain limited for now to carryout and delivery.

“Our goal from the beginning has been to protect the health of Iowans, flatten the curve, do everything we could through our mitigation efforts to manage our health care resources so that we didn’t overwhelm our health care system, and we’ve done that,” Reynolds said Tuesday. “We’re taking a phased approach that allows us to start small, to learn how to adapt operations according to public health guidance and to build our consumer confidence. Each business will determine what’s right for them.”

Data tracked by state health experts and other coronavirus team members and aided by increased testing have given her confidence she can revisit provisions of the emergency orders and consider allowing some to expire Friday, but possibly extending others through May 31.

According to state data, another 539 Iowans tested positive for coronavirus Tuesday — which included delayed test results of 319 Iowa workers at a Nebraska pork-processing plant — with the overall number of known cases growing to 12,912.

Of those, 5,618 have recovered. Currently, 385 Iowans are hospitalized for COVID-19 symptoms or illnesses (28 in the past 24 hours) with 143 in intensive care and 101 breathing with the assistance of a ventilator.

But hospitalizations continued a downward trend over the past week after peaking May 7.

Overall, 81,288 Iowans have been tested. The state’s TestIowa.com website shows 340,220 people have taken the virus assessment.

Iowa has reported 32 outbreaks in long-term care facilities since the pandemic first was reported March 8 in Iowa. Of Iowa’s 289 deaths, 88 percent have been people 61 years or older.

Tuesday’s 18 fatalities included the first deaths reported in Audubon and Guthrie counties.

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Health officials said there were three deaths each in Linn, Polk and Black Hawk counties, two each in Poweshiek and Woodbury counties and one each in Audubon, Clayton, Dallas, Guthrie and Muscatine counties.

Polk County has the most positive coronavirus cases at 2,447, followed by Woodbury County with 1,988, Black Hawk County with 1,521 and Linn County with 849 cases. A total of five counties have yet to report a positive case.

Reynolds said test results indicate the virus is moving from areas of Eastern Iowa that now are “decreasing and becoming manageable” to the central and western parts of the state. She said testing has increased from 300 a day at the start of Iowa’s pandemic to about 3,800 per day now. She said she expected machines supplied by a contractor under the Test Iowa Initiative to be validated by the State Hygienic Lab as of Tuesday — a development that would speed up getting test results.

“For now. we must learn to adjust life and business accordingly, so that we can live, work and play the way that we want while continuing to prioritize the health of Iowans and to get our economy back on track,” the governor said.

Reynolds said Tuesday the recent rise in cases is the result of more testing and should not impede the reopening of the state’s economy.

“Lifting restrictions is not a mandate that businesses must reopen but for those that are ready it’s an opportunity to get back to business, bring employees back to work and get Iowa’s economy moved ahead,” Reynolds said, noting that since May 1 both businesses and churches have taken “a very cautious approach” as they considered how best to reopen.

“Many are taking extra time to ensure that they are ready to safely serve their customers and communities and I respect those decisions,” she said.

Iowa has been among the early group of states where governors have chosen to reopen businesses under some limitations after weeks of restricting the movements of residents.

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Iowa also is among a handful of states getting a shipment of 400 vials of Remdesivir, the drug that recently was approved as a treatment for COVID-19 patients — both adults and children.

On Tuesday, state Public Health Deputy Director Sarah Reisetter said the vials — six to 11 are required per treatment intravenously — will be distributed by the State Hygienic Lab to facilities based upon the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in an area and residing in intensive care units with breathing problems, along with other factors.

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

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