CORONAVIRUS

Amid shortage, Iowa extends 'shelf life' of medical equipment

Order for relief comes as coronavirus claims 2 from Linn County

This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Corona
This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). This virus was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China. (CDC via AP)
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JOHNSTON — Due to a shortage of personal protective equipment for health care workers, Iowa public health officials issued a new order Friday meant to help hospitals, clinics and other health care providers stretch their supplies.

The directive allows health care providers, health care facilities and others who see patients to use or reuse equipment like masks and gowns beyond its “shelf life,” not change the gear between patient visits, prioritize face masks for essential activities, discharge COVID-19 patients once they’re stable and consider alternatives to medical-grade equipment like using homemade masks in combination with face shields, according to Sarah Reisetter, deputy director of the Iowa Department of Public Health.

The order, from Dr. Caitlin Pedati, the state’s medical director and epidemiologist, also provides new legal immunity for hospitals and other facilities in Iowa’s health care system that make “a good-faith effort” to get face masks and other protective equipment.

“We understand the issuance of this order may be unsettling but due to the global shortage of PPE supply, we’ve determined that now is the time to take this action,” Reisetter told a news conference Friday at the state’s emergency operations center.

“Unfortunately, we’re in a position where — like many states and countries across the globe — we are preparing for a time when we might not have enough of these supplies.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds reassured Iowans that positive cases of the novel coronavirus are “plateauing” even though Friday’s count included 118 new cases that brings the total to 1,388.

Two more COVID-19 deaths were reported, both of Linn County residents — one between 61 and 80 and one 81 or older. So far, 31 people have died in Iowa as result of the disease — nine of them in Linn County.

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The latest figures show COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in 81 of Iowa’s 99 counties. Linn County continues to lead the state with 225 known cases, followed by Johnson County with 185, Polk County with 147, Scott County with 99, Muscatine County with 80 and Washington and Tama counties with 70 each.

“When we started this week, I told Iowans that it would be a difficult one and it has been,” the governor said. But she also pointed to “reassuring signs” by noting that 14,565 Iowans have tested negative for the virus — including 862 in the latest report — and that 36 percent, or 506 Iowans, have recovered from the virus. Friday, 119 Iowans remained hospitalized.

Reynolds said trend lines show “we’re doing the right thing but our work is not yet done.”

Health Department metrics expected a climb in daily COVID-19 case numbers, Reisetter said, but she added that “onset of symptoms data” had flattened “and that’s really the whole goal of public health mitigation efforts is to see a flattening so that we have a flat plateau of illness and infection. The ideal goal would be to avoid ever really seeing a peak and a spike in cases.”

The state has not shared with the public details of the metrics health officials are using to assert the curve is flattening, though reporters have repeatedly asked.

Reisetter said a projected medical gear shortage was not being created by Iowa’s surge in new cases of COVID-19 — the potentially deadly respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus — that have overwhelmed health care systems in other states.

“Today’s order isn’t a reflection of an increased spike in cases. Today’s order is an acknowledgment that PPE supplies are low globally as well as in the United States, and so the order gives guidance and direction to health care providers to the extent that they can’t get the PPE that they would normally use to provide the standard of care that they normally provide,” she said.

“It’s not a reflection of an anticipated peak or spike or anything like that. It’s a reflection of the fact that supplies are low, additional PPE is hard to find, and so it gives health care providers instructions about what to do if they can’t find the PPE or they can’t acquire the PPE that they need.”

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Reynolds praised Iowa businesses, residents and prisoners for “stepping up” to help produce needed equipment for health care workers across the state.

“We’ve had an all-hands-on-deck, all-of-the-above approach,” the governor said.

Also Friday, Reynolds told reporters that one “unintended consequence” of her restrictive emergency orders that closed restaurants, bars and many other businesses while keeping grocery stores and other essential functions operating has been the food insecurity created for some 354,000 Iowans.

The situation has strained demand on food banks, pantries and other providers, but the governor said the state remains committed to “feeding even more Iowans in these troubling times.” To respond, Reynolds said she has created the Feeding Iowans Task Force led by Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg.

The task force will coordinate resources, identify gaps and let Iowans know how to find help — starting with the state’s coronavirus.iowa.gov.

Iowans who have tested positive include 537 people between the ages of 41 and 60; 432 people between 18 and 40; 322 people between 61 and 80; 80 people 81 or older; and 17 under 18, according to state data. In all, 714 women and 674 men have tested positive in Iowa.

According to the Health Department, the locations and age ranges of the 118 new cases are:

• Allamakee County, one middle-age adult (41-60);

• Black Hawk County, six adults (18-40 years), seven middle-age adults (41-60 years), one older adult (61-80 years);

• Cedar County, one adult (18-40 years);

• Clarke County, one middle-age adult (41-60 years);

• Clayton County, one adult (18-40 years);

• Clinton County, two middle-age adults (41-60 years), one older adult (61-80 years);

• Dubuque County, one middle-age adult (41-60 years);

• Fayette County, one middle-age adult (41-60 years);

• Harrison County, one older adult (61-80 years);

• Henry County, one adult (18-40 years), one older adult (61-80 years);

• Jasper County, one adult (18-40 years);

• Johnson County, one child (up to 17 years), five adults (18-40 years), six middle-age adults (41-60 years), two older adults (61-80 years);

• Linn County, three adults (18-40 years), four middle-age adults (41-60 years), two older adults (61-80 years), one elderly adult (81+);

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• Louisa County, five adults (18-40 years), six middle-age adults (41-60 years), three older adults (61-80 years);

• Marshall County, two adults (41-60 years);

• Muscatine County, two adults (18-40 years), eight middle-age adults (41-60 years), one older adult (61-80 years);

• Osceola County, one middle-age adult (41-60 years);

• Polk County, six adults (18-40 years), one older adult (61-80 years);

• Pottawattamie County, one middle-age adult (41-60 years);

• Scott County, three adults (18-40 years), six middle-age adults (41-60 years), one older adult (61-80 years, one elderly adult (81+);

• Tama County, four adults (18-40 years), three middle-age adults (41-60 years);

• Union County, one older adult (61-80 years);

• Wapello County, one adult (18-40 years);

• Warren County, one adult (18-40 years), one middle-age adult (41-60 years);

• Washington County, two adults (18-40 years), two middle-age adults (41-60 years), one older adult (61-80 years);

• Winnebago County, one adult (18-40 years);

• And Woodbury County, three middle-age adults (41-60 years).

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

James Q. Lynch of The Gazette Des Moines Bureau contributed.

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