Disease experts urge Reynolds to ‘turn off the faucet’ and take aggressive COVID-19 mitigation efforts

Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

Iowa had the eighth highest rate of new cases of COVID-19 in the country last week, according to the most recent White House Coronavirus Task Force report. The report, delivered to the state on Sunday and obtained by ABC News on Wednesday, warned that 90 percent of Iowa counties are experiencing “moderate or high levels of community transmission.”

“Iowa had 238 new cases per 100,000 population in the last week, compared to a national average of 117 new cases per 100,000 population,” the report said.

The task force recommended, as it has in prior weeks, that the state government take more action to stop the spread of the virus: “Mitigation efforts must be strengthened in areas with increasing cases and positivity.”

Gov. Reynolds was asked by reporters on Thursday morning if she plans to implement any new mitigation efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19.

“Right now, we’re not,” Reynolds said.

The governor, who has not held a news conference this week — despite such major news as the state twice setting new highs for the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients and Iowa Auditor Rob Sand concluding she has misused $21 million in federal funds meant for pandemic-related expenses — spoke to reporters briefly after a Thursday morning campaign rally for Sen. Joni Ernst in Ankeny.

As she has since the virus was first confirmed in Iowa on March 8, Reynolds focused on hospital resources available to treat patients, rather efforts to prevent people from becoming infected.

“Right now the hospitals are assuring us that they have the resources to manage the numbers,” the governor said.

But an infectious disease specialist at University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics has a very different view.

“Mopping up is good, but you want to turn off the faucet before you go and mop up,” Dr. Jorge Salinas, who is also a clinical assistant professor at the UI Carver School of Medicine, told WOI-TV. “You can’t expect your hospitals to mop up after you week after week, month after month.”

Salinas called the sort of community spread Iowa is currently experiencing “the most concerning” type of transmission.

The doctor was interviewed on Tuesday, after Iowa had set a new record with 501 hospitalized COVID-19 patients. That record was broken the next day when there were 534 COVID-19 patients in Iowa hospitals.

“It’s clear that banking on personal responsibility is not enough,” Salinas said, referring to the governor’s preferred approach of just trusting Iowans to do the right thing. “We have to start implementing public health measures. These public health measures are not new, unique or odd.”

Salinas pointed to the recommendations the White House Coronavirus Task Force has repeatedly made, which include mandating face masks, as well as greater restrictions on public gatherings and businesses where people gather than the governor has put in place.

“Our state has decided not to implement those,” the doctor said. “We are seeing the results of that.”

The Iowa Department of Public Health reported on Thursday that another 1,401 Iowans tested positive for COVID-19 during the 24-hour period ending at 10 a.m. The newly reported cases include 32 residents of Johnson County and 76 residents of Linn County.

Hospitalizations declined by four patients since the record-setting number on Wednesday. Of the 530 COVID-19 patients IDPH reported hospitalized on Thursday, 135 were being treated in intensive care units.

Between 10 a.m. on Wednesday and 10 a.m. on Thursday, IDPH reported another 15 deaths from the virus. Among the deceased was a resident of Linn County. These deaths increased the state’s COVID-19 death toll to 1,594.

“Our leaders need to start reacting more aggressively to the pandemic, in a smart way,” Salinas said during his interview with WOI-TV. “Nobody’s saying you have to shut down the entire state.”

He cautioned it was important to get virus spread under control before winter comes and people are forced into more indoor settings where COVID-19 spreads more easily, because anyone infected with the virus faces a wide variety of risks.

“There are no known treatments to prevent the progression of the disease,” Salinas said. “Once you have COVID, it’s a roller coaster, you don’t know what’s going to happen to you.”

“So, your best bet is to aim to not get it.”

Salinas said it’s not too late for Iowa to improve how it is handling the virus.

“That’s the beauty of public health, you can always change,” he said. “There’s always something that you can implement.”

Even if the state’s political leaders refuse to act, individuals and communities can still follow the sort of advice the task force is recommending to help reduce their chances of contracting or spreading the virus, Salinas said.

“It’s a game of solidarity, and we’re all in this together.”

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