As the district containing Linn County hits 10 points, Reynolds orders new restrictions but not the shelter-in-place promised

IIDPH regional assessment map, April 16, 2020.

When Gov. Reynolds revealed the assessment system the Iowa Department Public Health was using to determine the severity of COVID-19 in the state, it was explained that if any of the six regions they’d created was rated a 10 or higher, the governor would issue a shelter-in-place order for that region.

On Thursday, IDPH rated Region 6, which includes Linn County and the counties of northeastern Iowa, a 10, but Reynolds didn’t issue the order.

At her press conference on Thursday, Reynolds didn’t indicate a shelter-in-place order is a possibility, even though Linn County officials have been requesting one for three weeks.

Instead, the governor said she was ordering “additional mitigation steps in Region 6.”

“As I have said from the start, I am committed to making data-driven decisions regarding our response to COVID-19 in Iowa,” Reynolds said. “And today, the data tells us that Region 6 has elevated to a level 10, and this is due in large part to the long-term care facility outbreaks, the severity of the illness and the rate of hospitalization. But it also takes into account the increase of virus activity in that area of the state.”

Reynolds signed a new public health emergency proclamation putting some more restrictions in place in the 14 counties that make up Region 6: Allamakee, Benton, Black Hawk, Bremer, Buchanan, Clayton, Delaware, Dubuque, Fayette, Grundy, Howard, Jones, Linn and Winneshiek. The restrictions take effect at 11:59 p.m. on Thursday.

The proclamation limits social, community, recreational, leisure, and sporting gatherings in RMCC Region 6 to only people who live together in the same household. And it continues to limit weddings, funerals, and other spiritual or religious gatherings to no more than 10 people. The proclamation also requires people to remain six feet away from people outside their household whenever possible, and requires employers to take reasonable steps to increase telework and adopt reasonable precautions to protect the health of employees and the public at any in-person operations.

The new restrictions will remain in effect until 11:59 p.m. on April 30.

The proclamation doesn’t contain any new business closures or impose new requirements on businesses beyond the “reasonable steps” and “reasonable precautions,” which it doesn’t define.

Local officials are precluded from taking actions against businesses they believe aren’t complying with proclamation. According to the section of the proclamation on businesses: “This section shall not be a basis for closing or taking other enforcement actions against a business or other employer absent an additional specific order or directive of the Iowa Department of Public Health.”

At her press conference, Reynolds was asked, “How will the state hold employers accountable, if people get sick at their business and it turns out there haven’t been state and OSHA guidelines for keeping people safe?”

“I think employers are doing the right thing,” the governor said. “They need to continue to do the right thing. We’re going to continue to work with them and be a partner.”

Reynolds then went on to suggest it was unreasonable to expect the state to enforce all safety standards regarding the pandemic.

“As I said a moment ago, we are all in this together,” she said. “And we need to make sure individuals take individual responsibility. I can’t monitor every single person across the state. We have to put in place some guidelines, we have to encourage and educate and start to put some mitigation efforts in place.”

Reynolds’ prioritization of the needs of businesses was on display throughout the press conference.

The governor announced the state is sending another 1,500 COVID-19 tests to Louisa County, in addition to the 900 tests the state has already sent this week, in response to an outbreak of the virus at the Tyson pork processing plant. Almost 200 cases of COVID-19 are directly linked to the outbreak, and Tyson said on Wednesday that two of the plant’s workers have died from the virus.

Extra tests have also been sent to Tama County because of an outbreak at the National Beef processing plant. And the governor said the state is sending 1,500 tests to Black Hawk County in response to a suspected outbreak at another Tyson processing plant in Waterloo.

IDPH hasn’t yet declared an outbreak at the Tyson plant in Waterloo, and on Wednesday wouldn’t confirm the presence of the virus in the plant to the Waterloo-Cedar Fall Courier. IDPH defines an “outbreak” of COVID-19 at a business to be 10 percent or more of the workforce testing positive for the virus.

A staff member of the Peoples Clinic Community Health Clinic in Waterloo told the Courier, “Our clinic is seeing tons of COVID-19” related to the plant.

The Courier also reported that hundreds of Tyson workers have refused to work at the Waterloo plant in recent days, because they say “the company is not protecting workers from coronavirus spread.”

Iowa Starting Line reported on Thursday that “workers at meat packing facilities in Columbus Junction, Osceola and Perry, as well as TPI Composites, a wind-turbine manufacturer, in Newton” have said that their workplaces lack adequate safety measures to protect them from COVID-19.

At her press conference, Reynolds said she had been speaking to business owners and CEOs, “especially some of our larger companies,” and she felt the state’s proper role was to act as “partner,” offering guidance and education.

“They have a vested interest also in taking care of their workforce to make sure that they can continue to be up-and-running,” she said.

A reporter asked, “Have you talked to any of the workers? Because reporters are hearing from people who don’t feel safe at work.”

Reynolds responded to the reporter, but did not answer the question. Instead, she talked about the importance of educating employees as well as employers, so they can take the step needed to prevent spread of the virus.

On Thursday, IDPH announced another 146 Iowans have tested positive for COVID-19, including eight residents of Johnson County and four residents of Linn County. The newly reported cases bring the states total number of confirmed cases to 2,141.

IDPH also reported seven more people have died from COVID-19, including a resident of Linn County between the ages of 61 and 80. The other six deceased individuals were from Allamakee, Polk, Louisa and Tama Counties.

• Allamakee County, 1 older adult (61-80 years)

• Polk County, 1 adult (18-40 years), 1 older adult, (61-80 years) 1 elderly adult (81+)

• Louisa County, 1 middle-age (41-60 years)

• Tama County, 1 elderly adult (81+)

The state’s total number of COVID-19 fatalities now stands at 60, according to IDPH. Forty-nine percent of the deceased were residents of long-term care facilities, according to Gov. Reynolds.

Two more outbreaks at long-term care facilities were reported on Thursday. IDPH defines an outbreak at those facilities as three or more residents testing positive for COVID-19.

One of the new outbreak sites is Linn Manor Care Center in Marion, where 15 confirmed cases among the residents and staff members have been reported. Two residents have also died from the virus.

The other facility is Lutheran Living Senior Campus in Muscatine County, where eight confirmed cases have been reported.

Gov. Reynolds said “strike teams” of nurses “will be deployed to long-term care facilities and large businesses where outbreaks are occurring or anticipated. And these teams of nurses will conduct surveillance testing among long-term care residents and staff, or employees at large manufacturing, production or other business facilities.”

She said the state is also “significantly increasing the number of nurses and other health care professionals that will be conducting contact-tracing or surveillance.” Asked for the number of nurses and other professionals the state is hiring, Reynolds repeated that the state will “significantly increase the number of individuals.”

Reynolds also said IDPH is working on plans for a testing program called Test Iowa, “that will enable us to conduct large-scale testing and contact-tracing across the state.” The governor promised more information about the program next week.

On Thursday, a bipartisan group of Midwestern governors announced they are following the example of East Coast and West Coast governors and creating a coalition of states to coordinate responses to COVID-19.

“Today, we are announcing that Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky will work in close coordination to reopen our economies in a way that prioritizes our workers’ health,” the governors said in a joint statement. “We look forward to working with experts and taking a fact-based, data-driven approach to reopening our economy in a way that protects families from the spread of COVID-19.”

“We recognize that our economies are all reliant on each other, and we must work together to safely reopen them so hardworking people can get back to work and businesses can get back on their feet,” the governors explained.

Illinois news organizations are reporting that Iowa was asked to join the coalition, but Gov. Reynolds declined to do so.

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