Iowa surpasses 200,000 COVID cases; Republican lawmakers talk about relaxing restrictions

Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

During her news conference on Thursday morning, Gov. Kim Reynolds said the number of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities with COVID-19 outbreaks was about to spike by 20; but as of Friday afternoon, the Iowa Department of Public Health has added 25, pushing the number of ongoing outbreaks in long-term care facilities to 119.

That number of outbreaks, which is a record high, means more than one-fourth of the state’s long-term care facilities currently have COVID-19 outbreaks.

Reynolds announced on Thursday she was dedicating $14 million in federal CARES Act funds to assist long-term care facilities with testing and emergency staff needs. The governor also announced another new measure to help the facilities with staffing shortages.

“In an effort to more effectively assist long-term care facilities with staffing concerns, the state has provided updated guidance on preparation and implementation of emergency staffing plans,” she said.

Under the updated guidance, staff members can continue working even if they have tested positive for COVID-19. The guidance calls for assigning staff members who have tested positive to work with residents who have tested positive. As “a last resort,” a facility can have COVID-19 positive staff members work with residents who do not have the virus, provided the staff member is wearing protective gear.

On Friday, Iowa Capital Dispatch reported Iowa Sen. Jake Chapman is drafting a bill that would require long-term care facilities to allow family members to visit residents. Chapman told the Dispatch’s Linh Ta that he is concerned some facilities are being to0 strict in prohibitions on visitors imposed in attempts to limit the spread of the COVID-19.

Chapman, a Republican from Adel, was elected Senate president by his fellow Iowa Senate Republicans earlier this month.

The incoming Senate president was not able to provide any details regarding what he is calling a “patient’s bill of rights,” but said his legislation represented a “measured approach.” The bill would apply to hospitals and hospices, as well as long-term care facilities.

Chapman isn’t the only Republican member of the legislature who says he is concerned COVID-19 mitigation efforts in Iowa are too strict. Laura Belin of Bleeding Heartland reported earlier this week that Rep. Steven Holt of Dennison has said he believes Gov. Reynolds has gone too far in the measures she has mandated.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday morning, Holt wrote, “After careful reflection, I have concluded I cannot support portions of the Governor’s Enhanced Safety Measures announced on Monday, November 16th, 2020.”

Holt objected to the limited mask mandate Reynolds announced during her Monday night televised address, as well as the new limitations placed on businesses, which included 10 p.m. curfews for bars and restaurants.

Repeating a line often used by Reynolds and President Trump, Holt said, “The cure must not be worse than the disease.”

“Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I cannot support the use of government authority to tell my fellow citizens how many people can come into their homes,” Holt said. “The implications of the precedent this sets, and how such authority could be used for nefarious purposes in the future, cannot be ignored. Indeed, the expectation of privacy void of government interference is at its highest in our homes.”

Holt was referring to the governor’s proclamation limiting indoor gatherings to 15 people, unless those people are part of the same household. The proclamation contained other exemptions to that limit.

Holt said he believes that limit might be a violation of the Third Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The seldom-mentioned Third Amendment prohibits the government from billeting soldiers in private homes with the homeowner’s consent in times of peace, “nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”

The Third Amendment has the narrowest scope of the amendments in the Bill of Rights, and was intended to address the 18th century British army’s practice of the quartering soldiers in private homes that had infuriated many during the colonial period.

The U.S. Supreme Court has never issued a ruling indicating that the Third applies to anything beyond homeowners having to host soldiers, or any other ruling on the amendment. There has never been a controversy over its obvious meaning brought before the high court.

Holt’s opinion may be unsupported by any legal precedent, but it could still be influential in the Republican-dominated Iowa Legislature, since he serves as chair of the Iowa House Judiciary Committee.

In his Facebook post, Holt said he would work “with other like-minded legislators” to review the governor’s emergency powers during the pandemic to determine “what changes might be needed, including requiring legislative approval for declared emergencies lasting over a certain period of time.”

“I will also work to ensure that emergency powers are restricted as they pertain to the fundamental right of freedom of religion and the fundamental right to provide for ourselves and our families,” Holt said.

On Friday, Iowa surpassed 200,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, as IDPH reported another 4,359 people tested positive for the virus during the 24-hour period ending at 10 a.m. Those new cases, which included 132 residents of Johnson County and 190 residents of Linn County, brought the total number of Iowans who have tested positive to 203,033.

It took the state 218 days to go from the first three cases of the virus detected in Johnson County on March 8 to 100,000 confirmed cases. It only took 28 days to go from 100,000 to more than 200,000.

IDPH also reported another 25 deaths from the virus between 10 a.m. on Thursday and 10 a.m. on Friday, pushing the state’s COVID-19 death toll to 2,127.

Friday was the second day in a row in which the number of hospital patients with COVID-19 declined. According to IDPH, there were 1,447 patients with the virus on Friday morning, a decline of 69 patients from the previous day. Two hundred and seventy-five hospitalized COVID-19 patients were being treated in intensive care units.

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