Johnson County saw another day of double-digit increases in COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, as the Iowa Department of Public Health reported 21 more county residents tested positive for the virus during the 24-hour period ending at 10 a.m. The county has now had three weeks of double-digit daily increases in the number of confirmed cases, bringing its total number of residents who have tested positive to 1,325.
Statewide, IDPH reported another 273 Iowans had tested positive for the virus between 10 a.m. on Monday and 10 a.m. on Tuesday. The newly confirmed cases include eight residents of Linn County. The state’s total stands at 31,929.
The department also reported four more deaths from the virus on Tuesday morning. As of 10 a.m., the state’s COVID-19 death toll was 725.
According to IDPH, 25,415 of the Iowans who have tested positive for COVID-19 since it was first detected in the state on March 8 are now considered recovered. The department defines anyone who has tested positive as recovered after 28 days, unless it is informed otherwise.
The statewide positivity rate — the percentage of people being tested who were confirmed as having COVID-19 — for the 24-hour period ending at 10 a.m. on Tuesday was 8.2 percent. In Linn County, the positivity rate was 4.9 percent. Johnson County had a positivity rate of 11.7 percent.
More cases confirmed in UI Athletics program
On Monday, the University of Iowa Athletic Department disclosed that four of the five individuals it tested for COVID-19 last week were confirmed as having the virus. The department did not say if those who tested positive were students or staff.
Since UI Athletics began calling student-athletes back to campus in June, a total of 392 tests have been conducted on staff and students, resulting 21 positive results.
COVID-19 spreads in Fort Dodge prison
The Iowa Department of Corrections (IDOC) has confirmed an outbreak of COVID-19 at the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility. As of Tuesday, 61 inmates at the facility and five staff tested positive since July 1.
The facility began a large-scale testing program on July 2, after an inmate was confirmed as having COVID-19 the previous day. So far, 480 of Fort Dodge’s 1,101 inmates have been tested. According to an IDOC spokesperson, one inmate has been hospitalized due to the virus, and the rest had mild symptoms or are asymptomatic.
This is the largest outbreak in one of Iowa’s prisons.
Gov. Reynolds on face coverings and “a little bit of an uptick”
During her press conference on Tuesday morning, Gov. Kim Reynolds acknowledged the state has seen “a little bit of an uptick” in COVID-19 cases, but said “it’s been consolidated in anywhere from five to 10 counties.”
“We’re going to continue to monitor that and we’ll react appropriately,” the governor said.
Reynolds suggested an increase in cases as restrictions were removed was predictable.
“I don’t think it should be any surprise that as we start to open up — people have been locked down, they’re ready to get outside, they’re ready to get together with friend and family — so, I don’t think it’s entirely surprising that we’ve seen a little bit of an uptick,” the governor said.
Since COVID-19 was first confirmed in Iowa, Reynolds has focused on making sure that Iowa’s hospital systems are ready to handle increased cases of the virus, and on Tuesday she pointed to the number of hospital beds currently available, as well as the number of ventilators, as a sign that the state is doing a good job of managing the virus.
“Let’s not forget that’s what we need to be looking at, we can’t just focus on the number of positive cases,” she said.
Reynolds said she will be meeting with her advisers on Wednesday to “review the data” and “look and see if there’s any additional measures that need to be taken so that we can mitigate and contain and manage the virus among Iowans.”
The question of local officials taking action to stop the spread of COVID-19 came up at the press conference. On Sunday, Muscatine Mayor Diana Broderson issued a public health proclamation requiring people in her city to wear face coverings in public, and a member of the Scott County Board of Supervisors is preparing an ordinance that would do the same in his county.
Reynolds has said that she encourages people to wear face coverings in situations where they cannot maintain a proper amount of social distancing, but has also repeatedly said that it up to individuals to decide if they will do so or not. A reporter asked her if she approved of Broderson’s ordering
“We don’t believe that they can, and that is in conjunction with the attorney general,” Reynolds said. “We believe that when my public health disaster proclamation is in effect, unless the local government’s declaration or proclamation is consistent with the state proclamation then it’s not appropriate or it doesn’t go into effect.”
Because the governor’s public health declaration requires local officials to follow the guidance of IDPH, which does not mandate face coverings, no city or county can do so, according to the Iowa Attorney General’s Office. Broderson said both state code and the Iowa Constitution allow a mayor to act to safeguard the well-being of citizens in an emergency, and that is what she is relying on.
Reynolds was asked if she was considering issuing an order for people to wear face coverings. The governor said it was a complicated matter because there are “so many other factors that go into it.”
Reynolds asked rhetorically what happens if people don’t keep cloth face masks clean or use them properly. “Who’s going to monitor that?” she said.
Forty-six states and the District of Columbia have either statewide or local requirements for people to wear face coverings in order to limit to spread of COVID-19.
“What we can do is continue to educate and provide data and information to Iowans, so that they know where some of the hotspots may be,” Reynolds said.
By hotspots, Reynolds meant counties that are experiencing rises in virus activity. IDPH will not disclose the name of a business that is experiencing an outbreak of COVID-19 unless it meets the department’s strict definition for an outbreak. That definition does not apply to retail establishments, restaurants, bars or most other businesses that offer in-person service to the public.
The governor said when she meets with her advisers on Wednesday “all things are on the table.”
Giving an example, Reynolds said that if information from contact tracing indicted that “young people” were likely being infected by spending time in bars, she’d consider taking action.
“Then maybe we need to take a look at the hours [bars are open],” she said. “Then maybe we need to take a look at rolling back some of the mitigation efforts on bars.” [sic]
“There’s a whole host of things we can do to really help provide the information to Iowans, so that we can continue to move forward, continue to open up and continue to recover and help Iowa get back to the new normal.”