Dismissing UI research models, Gov. Reynolds says statewide mandates ‘punish’ counties with no COVID-19 spikes

Gov. Kim Reynolds answers questions during her April 29 COVID-19 address. — video still

“It’s not sustainable for us to continue to lock the state down,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said at her press conference on Wednesday. “We need to start to open it up in a responsible manner in areas that we feel are [sic] that we’ve seen a stabilization and a downward turn and some of the other things that we’re looking at to start to open them up.”

Reynolds’ remarks came as part of her reply to a question about why she rejected the conclusion of a report from the University of Iowa College of Public Health: that lifting restrictions in the state may result in a new wave of infections.

The report was commissioned by the Iowa Department of Public Health on April 7, and is one of three reports in a project to create Iowa-specific models of the spread of COVID-19. The report created models using publicly available data, and was presented to IDPH days before the governor announced her “first step” in reopening Iowa on Friday — allowing elective medical procedures and reopening farmers markets — or her decision on Monday to relax restrictions on selected businesses in 77 counties.

“We have found evidence of a slowdown in infection and mortality rates due to social distancing policies, but not that a peak has been reached,” the report’s conclusion stated. The UI researchers warned, “prevention measures should remain in place. Without such measures being continued, a second wave of infections is likely.”

Reynolds seemed to question the value of the research.

“So, that’s a snapshot in time,” she said about the report. The governor added she did “appreciate all the work that went into the model.”

Reynolds suggested she and her team have a better understanding of how COVID-19 is spreading in the state than the UI researchers do.

“We’re really able to look at things on a case-by-case real-time basis, and so I think it makes sense to start to loosen up in areas that have seen little-to-no virus activity,” she said.

The governor repeated several times throughout the press conference that the state’s newly enhanced testing capabilities give her the data needed to be “surgical” in her response to the virus.

“I shouldn’t punish half of the state, when we’ve got a significant spike in eight areas,” the governor said.

Test Iowa is the centerpiece of the enhanced testing capacity, and prior to Wednesday, it had only hosted a testing site in Des Moines. On Wednesday, it opened a second site in Waterloo. Reynolds said two more sites — one in Woodbury County and one in Scott County — are scheduled for next week.

IDPH Deputy Director Sarah Reisetter was asked at the press conference which parts of the UI researchers’ report IDPH disagreed with, since the department recommended the governor proceed with her reopening plans.

Reisetter did not directly answer the question, but struck the same tone as Reynolds.

“A model is a model, it’s a forecast,” she said. “It’s an estimate of what we might see. And I think that one of the things to understand about that is we do, as the governor said, we appreciate the work that the university has done in providing that information to us.”

Reisetter said people in the “few counties” (77, or more than three-quarters of the state) the governor’s proclamation affects will still be expected to practice social distancing, and the sick, the elderly and people with chronic health problems should continue to avoid going out in public as much as possible.

One part of the proclamation the governor signed on Monday applies statewide. Religious gatherings are now exempt from the limit of 10 people at public gatherings.

Reynolds was asked at the press conference if she would be attending an in-person church service this weekend.

“I’ll probably continue to still go online,” she replied. The governor said she believes her church is not currently planning to resume in-person services.

“Isn’t it a wonderful thing?” Reynolds asked rhetorically. “Isn’t it great? Iowans are going to decide. Churches are going to decide. It’s not a mandate, it’s an option.”

On Tuesday, a interdenominational group of faith leaders from around Iowa published a letter encouraging “congregations and members across the state to take faithful action by refraining from in-person religious gatherings, including worship.”

The 21 faith leaders said they had been surprised by the governor’s lifting of the restrictions on religious services, and believe decisions to restart in-person services “should be based on science, the best practices recommended by public health officials, and in consolations with leaders of our faith communities.”

Iowa’s four Roman Catholic bishops issued a separate statement saying their ban on public Masses would remain in effect.

“The spread of the COVID-19 disease remains a real and present danger,” the bishops said.

On Wednesday, IDPH announced another 467 Iowans tested positive for COVID-19, including five residents of Johnson County and 20 residents of Linn County. The newly reported cases brings the state’s total to 6,843.

Since the governor signed her first proclamation loosening COVID-19 restrictions on Friday, two more counties — Pocahontas and Davis — have reported their first confirmed cases of the virus. As of Wednesday, IDPH had reported at least one case of COVID-19 in 86 of Iowa’s 99 counties.

IDPH also reported 12 more deaths from the virus on Wednesday, the highest one-day number of reported deaths the state has experienced. Among the deceased were four residents of Linn County.

Newly reported deaths by county

• Black Hawk County, 1 elderly adult (81+)

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

• Jasper County, 1 elderly adult (81+)

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

• Marshall County, 1 elderly adult (81+)

• Muscatine County, 1 elderly adult (81+)

• Polk County, 1 elderly adult (81+)

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

• Washington County, 1 elderly adult (81+)

According to IDPH, 148 Iowans have now died of COVID-19.

At the press conference, Reynolds was asked how she can reconcile her oft-stated assertion that the “curve is flattening” in Iowa with IDPH’s projection that the virus’s peak won’t occur until mid-May.

The governor replied at length to the question. She did not, however, answer the question.

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