COVID-19: Gov. Reynolds sees ‘trends trend in the right direction,’ but Iowa remains third worst state in rate of new cases

Gov. Kim Reynolds was optimistic during her Sept. 16 COVID-19 press conference. — video still

Gov. Kim Reynolds said on Wednesday she doesn’t expect COVID-19 to be an obstacle to the University of Iowa playing football this fall, because the UI community will observe restrictions imposed to mitigate the spread of the virus.

“I think that the universities, the university presidents, the students, the Greek systems, I think understand the importance of really abiding by what those guidelines are, because they can see now the impact that it has,” Reynolds said during a news conference. “I think they want to get the Big 10 up and going.”

The Big 10 Conference announced on Wednesday morning it was reversing its Aug. 11 decision to cancel the fall football season to protect the health and safety of student-athletes and university communities during the pandemic. Instead, the conference will move forward with a limited fall schedule of games played with no fans in the stadiums, and institute a series of measures it says will guarantee safety.

“Each institution will designate a Chief Infection Officer (CInO) who will oversee the collection and reporting of data for the Big Ten Conference,” the conference said in a statement. “Team test positivity rate and population positivity rate thresholds will be used to determine recommendations for continuing practice and competition.”

In order to be eligible to practice or play a game, a team must have a seven-day average positivity rate in its COVID-19 tests below 5 percent, and the community the university is located in must have a seven-day average positivity rate of less than 7.5 percent. If both have rates that exceed those thresholds, the team must suspend play, including practices, for a minimum of seven days. Teams will test student-athletes on a daily basis starting on Sept. 30, according to the conference.

At 10 a.m. on Wednesday the Iowa Department of Public Health listed Johnson County’s 14-day positivity average as 10.4 percent, and the state’s overall 14-day positivity average as 10.7 percent.

IDPH reported on Wednesday another 775 Iowans tested positive for the virus during the 24-hour period ending at 10 a.m. The newly reported cases included 19 residents of Johnson County and 36 residents of Linn County. During the same period, the department also reported another death from COVID-19, increasing Iowa’s COVID-19 death toll to 1,234.

As of 10 a.m. on Wednesday, a total of 76,050 Iowans had been confirmed as having COVID-19, including 4,873 residents of Johnson County and 3,578 residents of Linn County.

During her news conference, Reynolds said she was confident that UI would be able to compete this fall and do so safely, because “we’re seeing the trends trend in the right direction” in Johnson County and Iowa City.

Johnson County, along with Story County, is one of the two counties where bars and other establishments that primarily serve alcohol remain closed byp order of the governor, and restaurants must stop serving alcohol at 10 p.m.

As of 5 p.m. on Wednesday, bars that had been closed by order of the governor in four other counties — Black Hawk, Dallas, Linn and Polk — will be able to reopen, and the 10 p.m. end time for restaurants will be lifted. The restrictions in Johnson and Story are scheduled to continue through at least Sept. 20.

Reynolds was asked during her press conference if she anticipated COVID-19 infection rates to increase in the four counties where bars will reopen. The governor said she didn’t believe that would happen, and said infection rates were just one of the factors she considered in making her decision and that she has “to balance all of it.”

“I can’t just look at one aspect of it,” Reynolds said. “So, what we’re trying to do is first of all, we want to educate. We want to, you know, give them a chance to do it right. We put stronger enforcement in place and that didn’t do what we had hoped it would do. We needed to refine that procedure just a little bit, too.”

Businesses with liquor licenses face a fine of $1,000 for the first violation of rules regarding social distancing and other mandated virus mitigation measures. A second offense can result in a seven-day suspension of a liquor license by the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division (ABD), and a third could cause the revocation of all liquor and food service licenses.

Last week Iowa Capital Dispatch reported, ABD received 229 complaints about licensed establishments violating COVID-19 mandates between July 30 and Sept. 8.

“ABD spokesman Jake Holmes noted that the division does not have the ability to issue fines and citations on the spot,” the Dispatch’s Clark Kaufmann wrote. “The agency initiates investigations as a result of both complaints and proactive inspections. Once an investigation is completed, Holmes said, a report is submitted to the division’s administrative actions unit, which reviews the case to determine whether a violation of law or one of the governor’s proclamations has occurred.”

As of Sept. 8, the agency had 12 open cases regarding violations.

At her news conference, Reynolds said the process for handling violations of COVID-19 mandates in liquor-serving establishments has now been streamlined and cases will be handled much more quickly.

“I think now that we’ve seen the trends come down, they know that we’re serious about enforcement and following the guidelines on the emergency health declaration,” she said.

The latest report from the White House Coronavirus Task Force noted some improvements in Iowa, but overall, Iowa remains among the worst states when it comes to the rate of new cases.

“Iowa is in the red zone for cases, indicating more than 100 new cases per 100,000 population last week, with the 3rd highest rate in the country,” the report said.

According to the report, “63% of all counties in Iowa have moderate or high levels of community transmission (yellow or red zone), with 17% having high levels of community transmission (red zone).”

Both Iowa City and Johnson County were downgraded in the latest report from the lists of red zone metro areas and counties, and placed on the task force’s yellow zone lists, which contain communities where between 10 and 100 cases per 100,000 residents have been reported in the previous week. Cedar Rapids and Linn County, which were already on the yellow zone lists, remained there.

The report called on Iowa to establish a statewide mask mandate, as previous reports have done. Reynolds has consistently rejected both issuing a statewide mandate or allowing local governments to establish mandates, calling the mandatory wearing of face coverings in public unnecessary and impractical.

The new report was sent to states on Sunday. IDPH did not release it to the media until after the governor’s new conference on Wednesday.

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