Gov. Reynolds dismisses estimate of 1,367 COVID-19 deaths in Iowa by August

Gov. Kim Reynolds stands to the side while Iowa Department of Public Health Director Gerd Clabaugh discusses the mental health risks of the COVID-19 pandemic during an April 1, 2020 press conference. — video still

The Iowa Department of Health reported on Wednesday that 52 more Iowans have tested positive for COVID-19, including three more in Johnson County and four more in Linn County. The new cases bring the state’s total of confirmed COVID-19 cases to 549.

• Cerro Gordo County, 1 adult (18-40 years)

• Clayton County, 1 elderly adult (81+)

• Clinton County, 1 adult (18-40 years)

• Dallas County, 1 adult (18-40 years), 1 older adult (61-80 years)

• Des Moines County, 1 middle-age adult (41-60 years)

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

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

• Henry County, 1 adult (18-40 years), 1 older adult (61-80 years)

• Iowa County, 1 adult (18-40 years)

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

• Johnson County, 1 adult (18-40 years), 1 middle-age adult (41-60 years), 1 older adult (61-80 years)

• Linn County, 2 adults (18-40 years), 2 middle-age adults (41-60 years)

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

• Mitchell County, 2 middle-age adults (41-60 years)

• Muscatine County, 1 middle-age adult (41-60 years), 1 older adult (61-80 years)

• O’Brien County, 1 middle-age adult (41-60 years), 1 older adult (61-80 years)

• Polk County, 1 middle-age adult (41-60 years), 3 older adults (61-80 years), 1 elderly (81+)

• Pottawattamie County, 1 child (0-17 years)

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

• Scott County, 2 middle-age adults (41-60 years), 1 adult (18-40 years)

• Story County, 2 older adults (61-80 years)

• Tama County, 1 middle age adult (41-60 years), 2 older adults (61-80 years)

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

• Warren County, 1 adult (18-40 years)

• Washington County, 1 adult (18-40 years), 5 middle-age adults (41-60 years), 2 older adults (61-80 years), 1 elderly adult (81+)

IDPH also reported two more COVID-19 deaths, bringing the state’s total to nine. Both were octogenarians; one was a resident of Polk County, the other Washington County.

This is the second death of a Washington County resident, according to IDPH. The death of another resident was reported on Monday. But according to the Washington County coroner, there has been another COVID-19 death in the county that isn’t listed in IDPH’s official total.

The coroner made that determination based on the symptoms the person showed and the fact the person had contact with someone who tested positive for the virus, the Associated Press’ Ryan Foley reported on Wednesday. The deceased died before a test could be performed.

There was no postmortem test for the virus, because the sample taken from the body leaked while being transported to the laboratory, Washington County Director of Public Health Danielle Pettit-Majewski told Foley.

Because no testing occurred to confirm the presence of the virus, IDPH include the death in its statistics.

Questions regarding the reliability of the data the Reynolds administration is using to guide the state’s response to COVID-19 came up at the governor’s Wednesday afternoon press conference.

Caroline Cummings of KGAN referenced President Trump’s announcement yesterday that the White House Task Force anticipates between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans will die of COVID-19. That projection is based on estimates by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) of the University of Washington’s medical school.

IHME currently estimates that 1,367 Iowans will die from COVID-19 by Aug. 4.

Cummings asked Reynolds what the models she is relying on estimate the likely death toll in Iowa to be.

The governor didn’t say what her models predict, but instead said the IHME estimate isn’t reliable.

I had referenced a website [IHME’s] the other day that the administration was looking at. But it didn’t take into account a lot of the mitigation efforts that we have put into place. So, [IDPH Medical Director] Dr. Pedati is working with that website and the assumptions, and then working with the University of Iowa to take into account, for instance, we’ve closed schools, the colleges and universities have shut down. We are practicing — we’ve shutdown some nonessential business [sic], we’ve limited social gathering to 10, we’re practicing social distancing.

The modeling that’s out there right now doesn’t take those assumptions into account. We’re working to get those. But again, it is a projection based on the assumptions we’re putting in.

Reynolds is correct that, in its state-level projection for Iowa, IHME doesn’t include Reynolds’ emergency orders that have closed many businesses and restricted public gatherings to 10 people, or that the state’s schools have suspended classes, but the model does anticipate the state soon putting even more restrictions in place than Iowa currently has.

As NPR explained, the IHME model anticipates governors who have not yet issued stay-at-home orders, closed schools, closed all nonessential businesses and imposed severe travel limitations will do so within seven days. Reynolds has not yet closed all nonessential business or imposed any travel limitations, and has repeatedly said she currently has no plans to issue a stay-at-home (a.k.a., shelter-in-place) order.

Reynolds was asked at the press conference by Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson if she was considering issuing a regional shelter-in-place for Linn, Johnson and Washington Counties, because residents of those three counties make up more than a third of the confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state. (Linn has 94 cases, Johnson has 76 and Washington has 34.) Reynolds said she isn’t.

“I’ve said all along that we’re able to look at the metrics, based on communities, based on counties, based on regions,” the governor said in reply to Henderson’s question. “And so there’s various that we can look at the information and the metrics that we’re looking at, that the Department of Public Health and we are looking at to make the decisions going forward, as well as other assumptions that are going into that factoring as well.” [sic]

“We start ever day reviewing the data, we end every day reviewing the data,” Reynolds added.

Barbara Rodriguez of the Des Moines Register asked the next question: “Governor, you keep referencing the data that you have and the data that you are reviewing at the beginning of the day and at the end of the day. When will the public see that data? Are you prepared to share specific information that shows your office is doing enough without a mandatory stay-at-home order?”

In response, Reynolds listed the four metrics IDPH Deputy Director Sarah Reisetter first disclosed at the governor’s March 24 press conference — the percentage of the population over 65, the percentage of COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization, the rate of infection per 100,000 residents during the past 14 days and the number of outbreaks in long-term-care facilities.

“Those are some of the metrics we’re looking at, but there are other assumptions going into it as well,” Reynolds said, without explaining what those assumptions are or offering any other specifics.

Near the end of the press conference, Reynolds said she would be issuing another emergency public health proclamation, part of which will involve whether Iowa’s schools will reopen this term.

The governor, however, did not offer any specifics about the proclamation.

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