During a week the state set daily record highs for the number of people who have been hospitalized and died from the novel coronavirus, Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday called Iowa a success story for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pence offered his assessment during a meeting with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a fellow Republican, at the White House. The meeting also included President Donald Trump and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
“We’ve turned a corner,” Purdue said in agreement with Pence.
Iowa earlier this week experienced its worst 24-hour tally of virus-related death (19 reported Tuesday) and hospitalizations continued to climb to a new one-day high of more than 400 reported Wednesday.
With 12 COVID-19 deaths announced Wednesday, a total of 219 people in the state have died of the disease in about seven weeks. The state also confirmed 293 new cases, bringing the total of Iowans sickened by the virus to 10,404.
Iowa’s per capita virus-related death rate is 24th in the country and its per capita rate of infection 15th, according to public data tracked by the New York Times.
The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday on the White House meeting.
“Meeting with @POTUS later today to discuss Iowa’s plans to reopen safely! The President and his team have been an outstanding partner in combating the COVID19 pandemic,” Reynolds tweeted from her official account Wednesday morning.
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During the meeting, Reynolds and administration officials discussed issues related to outbreaks at food processing plants in Iowa, according to news media pool reports.
There have been outbreaks confirmed at four processing plants in Iowa, resulting in over 1,600 confirmed cases of the virus. The state also has been impacted from similar outbreaks just across its eastern and western borders.
Perdue said meat shortages created by the issues at processing plants should end within 10 days as more plants come back online.
Pence said during Wednesday’s meeting that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials are dispatched to any food processing facility where an outbreak occurs in order to ensure safe conditions for workers.
“Our objective is two equal goals: No 1 is the safety and health of the workforce in our meat processing plants, and to ensure there’s strength in our food supply and getting people back to work,” Pence said.
Reynolds also highlighted Iowa’s expanded testing for the virus, driven largely by the $26 million Test Iowa program, which is being conducted by a Utah-based private health care company. The state has more than doubled the number of daily tests reported since the program was implemented.
Reynolds earlier said she planned to travel to the White House meeting on a private flight paid for with campaign funds.
Pence plans Friday to visit Des Moines, where he will meet with faith leaders to discuss how churches can safely conduct services, and to discuss the nation’s food supply in a roundtable discussion hosted by Iowa-based grocer Hy-Vee.
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U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, during his weekly conference call Wednesday with reporters said he hoped Reynolds discussed with the president myriad virus-related issues, including assistance for food processing plants, the safety of workers there and the virus’ impact on the ethanol industry.
U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, an Iowa Democrat, also expressed hope that Reynolds discussed the safety of food processing plant workers, as well as federal assistance for farmers and rural businesses, a boost of Iowa’s testing capacity and help for unemployed workers.
“All of the topics, while important on their own, have one overarching goal, which is get our communities ready to reopen and get the economy running once again,” Loebsack said in a statement. “If workers at meatpacker plants aren’t healthy, they can’t work the processing lines; if farmers don’t have access to loans to keep their operations running, once the economy returns, those that closed may not be able to return.”
The Republican Party of Iowa issued a statement praising Trump and Reynolds for “their swift and decisive response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” while the Iowa Democratic Party issued a statement accusing Reynolds of taking “a political victory lap” in the White House while the virus continues to spread back home.
Each of the 12 new virus-related deaths confirmed Wednesday was an adult at least 61 years old. The deaths included three in Polk County, two each in Linn and Jasper counties, and one each in Black Hawk, Clayton, Marshall, Muscatine and Woodbury counties.
Virus-related hospitalizations across the state continue to climb and reached a new one-day high of 414, with 103 on ventilators to help them breathe, according to state public health data.
The state said there are another 665 ventilators available if needed.
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