“Today starts of the fourth week since Iowa’s first coronavirus cases were confirmed, and the reality is the end is not yet in sight,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said during her Monday afternoon press conference on the state’s response to COVID-19.
Earlier in the day, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported 88 more Iowans had tested positive, which was the largest single-day increase in the number of Iowans testing positive for COVID-19, since the first cases were reported on March 8.
Linn County residents accounted for 29 of the new cases reported on Monday, bringing the county’s total to 71 and making Linn the county with the highest number of residents who have tested positive.
IDPH also reported two more COVID-19 deaths. One was a resident of Linn County and the other Washington County. Both were over 80, and both died on Sunday night.
The two new deaths bring the state’s total of COVID-19 death to six. One of the previous deaths was also a resident of Linn County.
At the Monday press conference, Gov. Reynolds shared some more information about the situation in Linn County.
The governor said there has been an outbreak of COVID-19 at a long-term care facility in Cedar Rapids.
“An outbreak means that three or more residents in the facility has tested positive,” she explained. “Twenty-one of Linn County’s 71 total positive cases COVID-19 cases are directly related to this outbreak.”
The governor didn’t name the facility, but on March 24, the Gazette reported two workers at Heritage Specialty Care, a nursing home in Cedar Rapids, had tested positive for the virus.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service issued a directive on March 4 to state agencies that oversee long-term care facilities to increase inspections at monitoring of facilities that have been cited for serious infection-control violations.
Reynolds was asked at the press conference if the Department of Inspections and Appeals, which oversees long-term care facilities in Iowa, has resources to conduct the federally mandated monitoring.
“DIA is staffed and equipped to handle that,” the governor replied.
But on Monday, the Iowa Capitol Dispatch reported the DIA said “its inspectors do not have any personal protective equipment to use when they go inside nursing homes — and said that in some cases such equipment is unnecessary.”
“We do not have PPE at this time,” DIA spokesperson Stefanie Bond told the Dispatch’s Clark Kaufmann. “In some cases, it is not needed. In others, a facility may provide PPE for the [inspectors].”
Six long-term care facilities in Iowa have reported either patients or staff members testing positive for COVID-19.
The governor faced questions again about whether she will issue a shelter-in-place order. On Monday, Maryland became the 30th state to issue such an order.
Reynolds explained she still doesn’t think such an order is necessary in Iowa.
The way we look at this is we can look at this based on a community, a county or a region. And so that’s how we should be making those decisions. Whether if we reach that certain trigger, or that metric, that says we need to move into now an order or take the next step for that area, that community or potentially that region, we have to be able to look at it from that perspective.
So, I think it’s really important that we do it that way and continue moving forward the way that we are. Because then we’re managing resources, basing it on consistent data; we’re looking the same metrics. I really feel strongly that that’s the proper way to move forward, so that we don’t really impact the supply chain, we don’t raise the anxiety already higher than it is.
The governor said she’d spoken earlier in the day with executives at two hospitals in Johnson County, and they supported her decision not to order shelter-in-place. Reynolds didn’t name the hospitals, but last week, executives from the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and Mercy Iowa City said they were currently opposed to either a statewide or county-level shelter-in-place order.
The Johnson County Board of Supervisors has sent a letter to the governor asking her to either order shelter-in-place or give the board authority to do so.
On Monday, Rep. Cindy Axne, who represents Iowa’s 3rd District in Congress, also sent Reynolds a letter asking her to issue a shelter-in-place order. (Axne used the alternative name for the order, “stay-at-home.”)
Axne pointed to the prediction of IDPH that Iowa will see its “first peak” in COVID-19 cases “in the next two to three weeks.”
“By not employing every tool in our arsenal to slow the spread of this virus — especially those that would simply codify what our offices have been recommending already — we risk elongating the time that our schools, businesses, and flagship events will have to remain closed,” Axne wrote.
By sending her letter, Axne joined fellow freshman congressperson Rep. Abby Finkenauer, who publicly called on Reynolds to issue a statewide shelter-in-place order on Friday.
Reynolds was also asked if she would extend her current emergency orders beyond their current expiration date of April 16, since President Trump said on Sunday he now recommends social distancing to continue through at least the end of April.
The governor said she would wait until the Trump administration provides more information later this week before making a decision.