Gov. Reynolds orders retail businesses closed, changes position on whether counties can order shelter-in-place

Gov. Kim Reynolds delivers her Thursday, March 26 COVID-19 update. — video still

Gov. Kim Reynolds ordered the closure of more businesses on Thursday, as well as the cancellation of non-essential medical and dental procedures in Iowa. At her Thursday afternoon press conference on the state’s response to COVID-19, Reynolds also said she was pushing back by a week the date businesses closed by executive order can reopen.

“Effective at 10 p.m. today, all existing closures, including restaurants and bars, will now be extended another week, until April 7,” the governor said. “I am also ordering the closure of additional retail stores through April 7, including bookstores, clothing and shoe stores, jewelry, luggage, cosmetic, perfume and beauty supply stores, florists, furniture and home furnishing stores.”

“Effective at 5 p.m. tomorrow and through the duration of this disaster, all non-essential and elective surgeries and procedures that can be delayed, without undue risk to patient, are suspended,” she continued. “All elective dental procedures — including routine hygiene, cosmetic or orthodontic procedures — are suspended, with the exception of emergency procedures.”

Reynolds said the restrictions on medical and dental procedures would help save the personal protective equipment that is now currently in short supply, and protects health care workers from possibly being infected with COVID-19.

“I am also ordering health care facilities, including nursing homes, to engage in enhanced staff health screenings,” the governor said.

So far, five workers at Iowa nursing homes have tested positive for the virus so far, including two at Heritage Specialty Care in Cedar Rapids. Four residents of Heritage Specialty Care have tested positive as well, the Gazette reported on Thursday

Another provision of the emergency order is designed to encourage the use of tele-medicine, by requiring insurance companies to pay health care providers the same rate for tele-medicine visits they pay for in-person visits.

“These additional steps, along with those we’ve already taken, are the equivalent to the goals of many of the shelter-in-place orders,” Reynolds said.

Earlier on Thursday, Colorado became the 22nd state to issue a shelter-in-place order.

Reynolds said there was still no need for such an order in Iowa.

“We are continuing to assess all aspects of the situation every day, and we will do whatever’s necessary to protect the health and safety of Iowans, and support the stability of our economy for the long-term,” she said.

On Wednesday, Johnson County Director of Public Health Dave Koch said Johnson and Linn Counties had been working together on possible county-level shelter-in-place orders. Earlier this week, the governor said local governments had the power to issue such orders.

“Likely if one county orders a shelter-in-place, it would be in step with the other county, just because of the nature of the Corridor and the [amount of commuting] between the two communities,” Koch explained.

Linn County and Cedar Rapids officials have said they believe a county-level order is necessary if the governor won’t issue a statewide order.

But at the Johnson County Board of Supervisors meeting on Thursday morning, County Attorney Janet Lyness said state law does not permit counties to issue their own shelter-in-place orders.

Asked about this at her Thursday afternoon press conference, Reynolds immediately reversed her stated position.

The governor said she and her advisers are “working with the attorney general’s office and taking a look at the statute. And right now, it appears that they [county officials] do not have the authority to issue a shelter-in-place order.”

According to Lyness, the governor has the power to issue a county-level shelter-in-place order or can delegate the authority to do so to selected local officials.

At her press conference, Reynolds said she currently has no intention of taking county-level action. She said people needed to think about “why we would even consider a shelter-in-place.”

Some of the things we need to consider is like the social distancing or some of policies we’ve put in place. Are we communicating those in a manner that we should? Are there additional measures that should be taken? We need to look at the PPE [personal protective equipment] and the workforce capacity and how that is impacted in what we’re doing.

The governor explained, “that is why we’re reaching out to communities on a daily level [sic], to walk through with them the metrics that we’re using to help to talk them through why we don’t think it’s necessary to issue a shelter-in-place at this point.”

On Thursday morning, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported 34 more Iowans have tested positive for COVID-19, including six in Johnson County and five in Linn County.

• Appanoose County, 1 elderly adult (81+)

• Black Hawk County, 1 middle-age adult (18-40 years)

• Cedar County, 1 middle-age (18-40 years), 1 older (61-80 years), 1 elderly (81+)

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

• Des Moines County, 1 adult (18-40 years)

• Jasper County, 1 elderly (81+)

• Johnson County, 1 adult (18-40 years), 4 middle-aged adults (41-60 years), 1 older (61-80 years)

• Linn County, 1 adult (18-40 years), 3 middle-aged adults (41-60 years), 1 older adult (61-80 years)

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

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

• Page County, 1 middle-aged adult (41-60 years)

• Polk County, 1 adult (18-40 years), 2 middle-aged (41-60 years), 1 older (61-80 years)

• Pottawattamie County, 1 middle-aged adult (41-60 years)

• Scott County, 1 elderly, 3 middle-aged (41-60 years)

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

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

The new reports bring the total number of confirmed cases in Iowa to 179. So far, 49 residents of Johnson County have tested positive for COVID-19. In Linn County, the total is 12.