CORONAVIRUS

Pressure mounts on Reynolds for tougher action

Governor says she's monitoring Eastern Iowa counties

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds gives an update on COVID-19 at the State Emergency Operations Center in Johnston, IA Wednesday, A
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds gives an update on COVID-19 at the State Emergency Operations Center in Johnston, IA Wednesday, April 1, 2020.

Gazette staff and wires

DES MOINES — As pressure mounts on Gov. Kim Reynolds to issue a shelter-at-home order like most other governors in the United States have done, she told a radio interviewer Thursday she might at some point issue such a directive for Eastern Iowa where cases are swelling in Linn, Johnson and Washington counties.

Reynolds, who told the radio interviewer she has not been tested for coronavirus because she has not had any of the symptoms, said she looks at data daily to determine whether a shelter-at-home order would be appropriate for regions of Iowa with higher positive test results.

“Right now maybe as we move into kind of our peak, we might see a region on the eastern side of the state or we might see a particular couple of counties or three that may hit that metric and if they do, then we have to look at additional things that we can do to help shut that down,” she told a WHO-AM talk show Thursday.

“And it’s not a crisis,” she added. “I think people thought, ‘Are you waiting until we’re in crisis before you make these decisions?’ No. This would be a decision that we would make to keep that curve flat and to be able to address it.”

Reynolds has argued that data shows an order requiring people to shelter at home except for essential purposes isn’t needed in Iowa. She has imposed other restrictions to slow the spread of the virus, and Thursday extended those.

State public health officials reported Thursday that there were 66 new cases in Iowa of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. That brought the state’s total to 614 cases and 11 deaths, including two more in Linn County.

One of the most outspoken critics of Iowa’s approach to fighting the outbreak has been Eli Perencevich, an epidemiologist and physician who oversees a group of researchers studying infection prevention at the University of Iowa and Iowa City’s VA Hospital.

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He has called on Reynolds to issue a shelter-at-home order, saying many Iowans aren’t getting the message.

“Many citizens are hearing that as if they don’t need to shelter at home and maybe only certain people do, like older people,” he said. “The messaging really needs to improve. Until all of us take this seriously it’s going to be a longer process for us to come out of our current social distancing interventions.”

Perencevich said the metrics used by the Iowa Department of Public Health to recommend stricter or relaxed social distancing interventions are inadequate.

The agency released a document Thursday that it previously had withheld from the public.

The document shows a point system based on the percentage of cases requiring hospitalization, the rate of cases over the last 14 days and number of outbreaks in long-term care centers.

The matrix hold that a shelter-at-home order is not needed until an area racks up 10 points.

A separate map shows Iowa divided into six regions. On it, large swaths of Eastern Iowa including Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Waterloo and Davenport are marked as having seven points — the most in the state.

Northwestern Iowa, including Sioux City, in contrast shows the lowest tally — five points.

“By the time you are waiting for specific disease metrics that are not targeting exponential spread, you are many weeks behind the virus,” Perencevich argued. “You are intervening too late.”

Governors in more than three dozen states have issued statewide shelter-at-home orders.

Reynolds addressed the criticism Thursday by saying her orders have been done incrementally based on what the data was telling her.

She said Iowa’s actions have not been much different from those of states that have shelter-at-home orders.

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“My challenge I guess to the individuals out there that think I haven’t done enough, I would ask them to go and take a look at other states and recommendations that they’ve put in their stay-at-home — I don’t care what you call it — I’m basing it on data,” she said.

Reynolds extended school and business closures through April 30 and Republican legislative leaders quickly followed her lead by saying lawmakers will not return until after that date.

“We have additional things that we’re looking at that we may need to ramp up if the numbers and the data drive us to do that,” Reynolds said at her new conference.

Democratic legislative leaders joined the call for Reynolds to issue a statewide stay-at-home order. In a letter released Thursday, state Sen. Janet Petersen and state Rep. Todd Prichard said such an order would send a clearer message about the serious nature of the pandemic.

Democratic U.S. Reps. Abby Finkenauer and Cindy Axne of Iowa said they also have sent Reynolds letters calling on her to issue such an order.

For most people, COVID-19 causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are among those particularly susceptible to more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The Associated Press and Rod Boshart from The Gazette contributed to this report.

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