‘Iowans are meant to work’: Gov. Reynolds discusses her decision to ease COVID-19 restrictions, as another 534 cases are reported

Gov. Kim Reynolds lingers in the doorway before her April 4 press conference. — video still

Gov. Kim Reynolds started her press conference on Monday by praising her administration’s efforts to deal with the impact of COVID-19 in the state.

“You may not be aware of this, but this week is Public Service Recognition Week,” the governor pointed out before giving a glowing assessment of the work of various state agencies.

A few hours earlier, Reynolds had been object of praise, as she was honored for her decision to relax COVID-19 restrictions during an online presentation by the Committee to Unleash Prosperity, a pro-Trump group that advocates for slashing taxes and regulations.

The committee is one of the well-funded right-wing groups that has helped organize protests against shelter-in-place orders around the country.

Iowa, of course, was one of five states never to issue either a partial or statewide shelter-in-place order.

Reynolds was asked during her press conference about a question that came up during the Committee to Unleash Prosperity presentation regarding the political considerations involved in balancing the demands of business groups to relax restrictions with public health considerations.

“This isn’t political,” the governor said. “That’s one of the reasons I’ve been able to stand here every day and talk to Iowans about making decisions based on data and metrics, based on the expertise that I have working for the citizens of Iowa.”

Apparently, that expertise does not include the work of a research team from the University of Iowa College of Public Health, which warned against relaxing restrictions before mid-May.

After saying political considerations don’t influence her decisions, Reynolds listed some of the things she said she does consider.

“You just can’t look at it from one isolated perspective, you have to look at the health and the well-being, and the mental well-being, the livelihood of Iowans,” the governor said. “As I said the other day, we’re seeing an increase in substance abuse, we’re seeing additional food insecurity. We’ve had over 200,000 Iowans who are receiving unemployment claims.”

“Iowans are meant to work. And we need to open back up, but have to do it in a safe and responsible manner. So, this isn’t political.”

Reynolds was also asked a more practical question about her decision-making process during the press conference. A reporter asked what amount of growth in virus activity would be needed for the governor to reintroduce restrictions in one of the 77 counties where she relaxed them on May 1.

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The number of confirmed cases in Wapello County, one of those counties, has gone from 15 to 84 in the past five days, the reporter noted.

“Well, we’re going to continue to watch it on a daily basis and with the testing capacity that we have, with the assessment and then with case investigation and the contact tracing, it really does allow us to look at some of the spikes in cases, not only from a state but a county to a community, even down to a zip code, so we can monitor that and address in a fairly rapid way, so that we can hopefully prevent seeing a significant spike,” the governor said.

Reynolds did not say if there is a predetermined threshold for imposing more restrictions in one of the 77 counties. Of course, if the governor had cited a threshold, there’s no guarantee she would take action once a county reached it.

On April 2, Reynolds said if any of the six regions the Iowa Department of Public Health divided the state into for planning purposes reached a 10 on the department’s 12-point scale of virus severity, she would issue a shelter-in-place order for that region. Two weeks later, Region 6, which contains Linn County, hit that mark. Reynolds did not issue a shelter-in-place order, but instead imposed a few new restrictions on public gatherings. She didn’t order any further business closures in the district.

Another 534 have tested positive for COVID-19, IDPH reported on Monday. Among the newly reported cases were seven residents of Johnson County and 26 residents of Linn County. A total of 9,703 Iowans have now tested positive for the virus.

IDPH also reported another four people have died of COVID-19, bringing the state’s death toll to 188.

Newly reported deaths by county

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

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

• Poweshiek County, 1 elderly adult (81+)

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

An outbreak of COVID-19 at another long-term care facility was reported on Monday. The outbreak at Accura HealthCare of Marshalltown brings the number of such outbreaks in Iowa to 28.

Six residents at the Woodward Resource Center in Dallas County have tested positive for COVID-19, the Iowa Department of Human Services disclosed on Monday. The center serves the needs of people with intellectual disabilities.

IDHS Director Kelly Garcia addressed the situation during the governor’s press conference, saying, “we knew it would be a matter of ‘when,’ not ‘if,’ we had a confirmed positive in any of our six facilities.”

“We’re doing everything we can to protect our team and those we serve,” Garcia said. She added, “Nine DHS employees who work at five of our six campuses have tested positive to date.”

According to Garcia, “most [of the employees] had no client interaction.”

Garcia said symptoms in the first resident to test positive were documented on April 25, but the IDHS did receive the results of the COVID-19 test on that resident until May 1.

Neither Garcia nor the governor explained why the agency didn’t inform the public the virus had been confirmed at IDHS facilities until today.