Gov. Reynolds confirms ‘substantial community spread’ of COVID-19, will not order business closures (yet)

Governor Reynolds and state officials provide an update on COVID-19 response efforts in Iowa.

Posted by Governor Kim Reynolds on Monday, March 16, 2020

During a late Monday afternoon press conference on COVID-19, Gov. Kim Reynolds said it was too soon for the state to impose restrictions on large public gatherings or on public spaces such as bars or restaurants, even though she acknowledged “substantial community spread [of COVID-19 in Iowa] was confirmed.”

The governor said she would prefer to rely on personal responsibility — such as people washing their hands, and those with compromised immune systems avoiding large groups — rather than executive actions to slow the spread of the disease in Iowa.

“Again, we can address this and you can do that without me ordering these businesses to close. If you are sick — you have a fever, a cough, any respiratory illness — stay home,” Reynolds said. “Practice social distancing. Once we apply the basic recommendations that the Department of Public Health and CDC is making [sic], we start to have the impact that we’re looking for, without implementing some of those additional procedures.”

Earlier in the afternoon, at a White House press conference, Dr. Anthony Fauci listed new recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control on limiting the spread of COVID-19. These included limiting the size of groups to 10 people, and closing restaurants and bars in states with evidence of community spread.

Reynolds did say her administration is continuing to assess the situation.

“We’re not making that recommendation [to close restaurants or bars, or limit the size of public gatherings] right now,” the governor said. “But I said the same thing with schools.”

On Saturday, Reynolds had said that based on the available evidence it was too soon to call for school closures. On Sunday, she recommended all schools in the state close for four weeks.

The governor addressed the impact of school closures at her press conference.

“We know that closing schools has a ripple effect for Iowa families, businesses and our workforce,” she said. “And I understand that many families are concerned about how to care for their children and continue to go to work. Childcare plays a key role in supporting Iowa’s ability to continue essential functions.”

The governor explained her administration is working “to put policies in place that ensure continued access to childcare during this time.”

Those policies include financial assistance to childcare providers — allowing them to be paid by the state for the number of children enrolled, rather than number attending — and “ways to expedite licensing, so that we can quickly ramp-up childcare capacity.”

The governor also said her administration was working to meet the needs of children who rely on school for daily meals by obtaining a waiver from the federal government “to allow schools to continue serving meals upon closure. Schools will be able to activate their summer meal programs and provide meals in non-group settings, such as drive-through pick up or a grab-and-go.”

Reynolds also said that if the Iowa Legislature passes a bill eliminating the need for schools to make up instructional time missed during closing related to COVID-19, she would sign it.

On Monday morning, the governor’s office announced changes to the state’s unemployment insurance program for “employees and employers affected by COVID-19 related layoffs.”

Workers “laid off due to COVID-19 or have to stay home to self-isolate, care for family members or due to illness related to COVID-19, you can receive unemployment benefits, provided you meet all other eligibility requirements.”

Those requirements still exclude the self-employed and the recently employed. In order to qualify, you must have been “working for wages from an employer who claims you as an employee in six of the last eighteen months and have earned at least $2,500 in the same time period.”

Iowa Workforce Development intends to expedite the approval process for those who qualify, and waive the requirement that an individual actively search for work, until after the emergency situation caused by the spread of COVID-19 has passed.

Under the new plan, employers won’t see the amount they have to pay into the unemployment insurance system increase as a result of making COVID-19-related layoffs.

“Claims that are filed and identified as a direct or indirect result of COVID-19 will not be charged to employers,” the governor’s office explained. “Fact-finding interviews for these claims will be waived and not be held although employers will be notified of claims received.”

Throughout her press conference, the governor repeatedly stressed the importance of following the basic recommendations regarding hygiene and social distancing put forth by the CDC and Iowa Department of Public Health.

“These steps may seem too simple to combat a worldwide pandemic,” Reynolds said. “But they are the most important things we can do right now to mitigate the virus and to slow its spread in our state.”

Gov. Reynolds also announced during the press conference that another case of COVID-19 had been diagnosed in Dallas County. That brings the total number of known cases in the state to 23.

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