Reynolds suggests Iowa might be past its COVID-19 peak as a record-breaking number of new cases are reported

IDPH Deputy Director Sarah Reisetter speaks during the governor’s May 1 COVID-19 update. — video still

Iowa set a one-day record on Friday for the number of new cases of COVID-19 cases reported on a single day, and at the beginning of her press conference on Friday, Gov. Kim Reynolds warned the number of cases reported this weekend may be unusually high, as the State Hygienic Laboratory works its way through a back-log of unprocessed test kits.

But that didn’t stop the governor from suggesting Iowa may have already passed its COVID-19 peak and is now on the downward slope in terms of new cases.

“We already met it,” Reynolds said about Iowa’s COVID-19 peak, as she stood near the back of the stage during the press conference.

At the podium, Iowa Department of Public Health Deputy Director Sarah Reisetter was talking about a model that showed Iowa had experienced a peak.

Reisetter was asked if the more than 3,400 new cases of COVID-19 reported since last Friday had changed IDPH’s projection that the virus would peak in the state by mid-May.

“We have anticipated all along that kind of the end of April, early May was going to be the time that we would see a peak of test results in Iowa,” Reisetter said as she began her reply.

This is not true.

On March 29, Reisetter said, “We’re thinking that we might see a peak — a first peak — in the next two to three weeks. That’s the best information that we have right now.”

As mid-April drew closer, Reynolds and Reisetter began talking about the peak occurring before the end of the month. They also stopped qualifying the peak as “a first peak.”

On April 24, Reisetter said, “We fully anticipate that we’re going to see a peak here in the next two to three weeks.”

During her answer on Friday, Reisetter said, “I’m not going to say we’ve seen the peak.” Because more testing is now being done, she said, the number of cases reported each day may grow more quickly.

Reisetter then went on to add, “I do think the IHME model this week indicated that we have met our peak.”

The IMHE model was an odd choice to highlight. The model, created by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation of the University of Washington’s medical school, estimates the likely numbers of deaths from the virus in a state, not the number of COVID-19 cases.

The IHME model for Iowa was last updated on April 28, and its projected numbers of deaths for April 29 and 30 are both wrong.

For both days, the model predicted eight deaths. On April 29, IDPH reported 12 deaths due to the virus. The next day, it reported 14. The number of deaths on both those days were higher than those on any previous day.

Also, the IHME model assumes that all COVID-19 restrictions in Iowa will remain in effect until at least June 16. Many important restrictions that had been in place were relaxed in 77 counties on Friday. The governor ordered that change even though a report from epidemiologists at the University of Iowa College of Public Health warned that easing restrictions may result in a new wave of infections in the state.

Neither Reynolds nor Reisetter mentioned any of this information when they referenced the IHME model.

According to the model created by the Los Alamos National Laboratory, which does track the total number of daily cases, there is an approximately 27 percent chance that Iowa has already experienced its peak of COVID-19 cases.

On Friday, IDPH reported another 739 Iowans had tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the state to 7,884. At her press conference, Gov. Reynolds said the number of cases reported today was 740. Either way, it is a new one-day record.

Among the cases reported on Friday were 14 residents of Johnson County and four residents of Linn County.

Five more counties reported their first cases of COVID-19 on Friday. Only eight of Iowa’s 99 counties haven’t reported cases of the virus yet.

The Iowa Department of Corrections reported on Friday that a staff member at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Polk County has tested positive for COVID-19. Staff members and/or inmates at three of Iowa’s nine state prisons have now tested positive.

In addition to the case at the women’s prison, 18 inmates and six staff members at Oakdale Prison in Coralville, as well as one inmate at the Clarinda Correctional Facility, have tested positive for the virus.

IDPH also reported on Friday that eight more Iowans have died from COVID-19, including two residents of Linn County.

Newly reported deaths by county

• Bremer County, 1 elderly adult (81+)

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

• Muscatine County, 1 older adult (61-80 years), 1 elderly adult (81+)

• Polk County, 2 elderly adults (81+)

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

The deaths reported on Friday bring the number of COVID-19 fatalities in the state to 170.

At her press conference on Friday, Gov. Reynolds chose to highlight the provision of the executive order she signed on Monday that permits in-person religious services to resume statewide.

That decision has already met pushback from an interdenominational group of Iowa faith leaders, as well as the state’s four Roman Catholic bishops, all of whom said it was too soon to begin in-person services again.

To celebrate her order, Reynolds invited Greg Baker to participate in the press conference via Zoom.

Baker is executive vice president of the Family Leader, a conservative Christian group known for its hardline views on abortion, LGBTQ rights and a variety of other social and political issues. The Family Leader is a longtime supporter of Reynolds.

Baker praised Reynolds, Jesus and the work Christian churches around the state have been doing during the pandemic. He noticeably did not mention the work that’s been done of groups of other faiths.

Connie Ryan, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, issued a statement following the governor’s press conference.

“Once again Kim Reynolds misused her elected office to promote one religion — one narrow segment of that religion, at that. As the top elected official in our state, the governor must represent all Iowans and must not promote one religion over all others.”

The governor’s spokesperson told the Des Moines Register, Reynolds just wanted to highlight the good work of churches by including Baker in her press conference.

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