Reynolds: Do as you’re told, don’t ask questions

Gov. Kim Reynolds listens to a question about the state’s COVID-19 response metrics during her April 9 press conference. — video still

Gov. Kim Reynolds wants people to stop asking questions about how she is making decisions while directing the state’s response to COVID-19, and just do what she says.

Reynolds and Iowa Department of Public Health officials constantly refer to “the metrics” they use for decisions, while offering little information about those metrics. Four of the metrics have been made public, but the governor and IDPH officials consistently say they are also using other factors in their decision-making process.

At her press conference on Thursday, Reynolds was asked to explain what some of those other factors are.

The governor’s response didn’t answer the question. Reynolds even pushed back against the idea she should provide more information.

“Everyone is getting so hung up on the metrics,” she said. “Let’s go back to the main message that we have said the beginning of this.”

That message is that people should stay home, practice good hygiene and follow social distancing rules if they need to go out.

“What I would like everyone to do is help me elevate that message,” Reynolds continued. “Raise the volume, practice [sic] neighborhood — in a good way, not in a bad way — neighborhood watches, where we encourage everybody to social distance, to do the right thing.”

“If we do that, then these press conferences can be about how we can start to open things back up, and get this state and this country back to normal. And so, let’s focus on what we need to be doing, what we can do by being individually responsible.”

Iowa is one of just five states that hasn’t issued a shelter-in-place order, either for the entire state or part of it. But Reynolds said she is confident her approach of suspending school, closing selected businesses, ordering no public gatherings of more than 10 people and asking Iowans to practice social distancing is leading to a “consistent flattening of the curve.”

The governor, however, started her press conference by saying IDPH had reported 125 more Iowans had tested positive for COVID-19. That’s the biggest one-day increase in the number of reported cases. The previous biggest one-day increase happened on Tuesday (102 new cases).

The 125 new cases include 24 residents of Johnson County and 18 residents of Linn County.

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

• Black Hawk County, 1 adult (18-40 years), 1 middle age adult (41-60 years)

• Boone County, 1 middle age adults (41-60 years)

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

• Cedar County, 1 middle age adults (41-60 years)

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

• Chickasaw County, 1 middle age adults (41-60 years)

• Clinton County, 1 child (0-17 years), 1 older adult (61-80 years)

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

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

• Iowa County, 1 adult (18-40 years)

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

• Johnson County, 8 adults (18-40 years), 12 middle age adults (41-60 years), 4 older adults (61-80 years)

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

• Linn County, 1 child (0-17 years), 7 adults (18-40 years), 6 middle age adults (41-60 years), 3 older adults (61-80), 1 elderly adult (81+)

• Louisa County, 4 adults (18-40 years), 6 middle age adults (41-60 years), 1 elderly adult (81+)

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

• Muscatine County, 1 adult (18-40 years), 6 middle age adults (41-60 years), 1 older adult (61-80 years), 1 elderly adult (81+)

• Polk County, 2 adults (18-40 years), 3 middle age adults (41-60 years), 1 older adult (61-80 years)

• Scott County, 1 child (0-17 years), 6 adults (18-40 years), 2 middle age adults (41-60 years), 2 older adults (61-80 years)

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

• Tama County, 3 adults (18-40 years), 9 middle age adults (41-60 years), 3 older adults (61-80 years), 2 elderly adults (81+)

• Washington County, 2 middle age adults (41-60 years), 1 elderly adult (81+)

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

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

The new cases bring the state’s total to 1,270. As of Thursday morning, 215 residents of Linn County and 171 residents of Johnson County have tested positive for the virus.

IDPH also reported two more COVID-19 deaths. Both of the deceased were residents of Linn County; one was between the ages of 61 and 80, the other was over 81.

The deaths bring the state’s number of COVID-19 fatalities to 29.

Despite her complaint that people are hung up on metrics, Reynolds highlighted some data points she said indicate Iowa has enough resources to handle the needs of hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

IDPH divides the state in six regions for planning purposes, with the regions corresponding to how people in those areas access health care resources. According to Reynolds, hospitals in all six regions currently have enough resources, although personal protective equipment is still in short supply.

The Iowa Department of Public Health’s regional map used for planning the state’s response to COVID-19.

Reynolds pointed to the two regions that have the greatest numbers of residents who have tested positive to demonstrate that available resources are adequate.

As of Wednesday night, Region 5, which included Johnson County, had 32 patients hospitalized, 14 of whom were in ICUs and 11 of whom were on ventilators, according to the governor. But the region has another 93 ICU beds and 167 ventilators available.

Region 6, which includes Linn County, had 48 COVID-19 patients hospitalized as of Wednesday night. Thirteen were in ICUs and 17 of whom were on ventilators. The region had another 57 ICU beds available, as well as another 119 ventilators.

Although most of the governor’s press conference was focused on the health care aspects of the pandemic, Thursday is also the day of the week when Iowa Workforce Development publishes its report on unemployment claims filed during the previous week. This week’s number of first-time unemployment claims — 67,334 — broke the record set last week (which, in turn, broke the record set one week earlier.)

For the week ending April 4, IWD received 67,334 first-time claims. Between the week ending March 21 and the week ending April 4, the total number of first-time unemployment claims filed in Iowa was 167,587.

Above: Thursday’s press conference; Reynolds’ response to the question about disclosing metrics begins at 25:14

At the press conference, IWD Director Beth Townsend said her agency has been receiving tens of thousands of phone calls from Iowans every day. Townsend said her agency is “working very hard to answer all of those calls.” She added that IWD also tries to respond to emails within 24 hours.

Townsend said IWD should be able to begin processing claims for the additional categories of workers Congress has now made eligible for unemployment benefits, including the self-employed, employees of nonprofit organizations, gig workers and other independent contractors.

Benefits for unemployed workers are expanding, but a benefit being offered to employers may eventually be eliminated, Townsend said.

On March 16, the governor said employers wouldn’t see the amount they have to pay into the unemployment insurance system increase as a result of making COVID-19-related layoffs. Townsend announced a modification to that on Thursday.

“Today we are announcing that we have put in place a trigger, so that once the unemployment insurance trust fund reaches this balance, we will need to begin charging employers with these unemployment claims,” Townsend said. “That trigger is $950 million.”

“We are currently at $1.13 billion in our trust fund, so about $180 million away from the trigger.”

IWD had paid almost $52 million in unemployment benefits during its three record-setting weeks.

Townsend said the trigger was necessary to keep from increasing the unemployment tax rate Iowa employers currently pay.

Reynolds closed her press conference by reminding everyone she had signed a proclamation designating Thursday as a “Day of Prayer” in Iowa.

In response to the governor’s proclamation, the ACLU of Iowa issued a statement saying that it “violates the principle of religious freedom enshrined in the Iowa and U.S. Constitutions.”

The ACLU objects to provisions of proclamations such as, “WHEREAS God’s unconditional love by sending His Son, Jesus, to be Savior of the world is remembered and celebrated by Christians during Holy Week of Easter each year,” as unconstitutional promotions of a particular religion.

Reynolds’ proclamation also quotes a verse from the New Testament (Romans 12:12), although it does attribute the phrase to the Bible.

The press release accompanying the proclamation contained a link to register for the annual Iowa Prayer Breakfast.

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