‘We’ve been very transparent’ about COVID-19 in Iowa, Reynolds claims, but data is still elusive

IDPH Deputy Director Sarah Reisetter and Gov. Kim Reynolds walk away after their April 13 COVID-19 update. — video still

Six days after signing a contract with the University of Iowa College of Public Health to have its experts create models of the spread and severity of COVID-19 in the state, the Iowa Department of Public Health still hasn’t provided the data UI epidemiologists need for those models.

“We are just getting ready to provide the data,” IDPH Deputy Director Sarah Reisetter said at Gov. Kim Reynolds’ press conference on Monday.

Until Reisetter said that, Reynolds apparently believed work on the models had already started.

Replying to a question from the Associated Press’ Ryan J. Foley — “Has the state shared its dataset with the university so that work can now get started?” — Reynolds said, “I assume we’ve provided the data for them.”

The governor then asked Reisetter to respond to the question.

“We’re getting ready to finalize the data provision to them,” Reisetter said. “But we really wanted to make sure that we had enough data so that any model they did would actually be meaningful based on what’s actually happening here in Iowa.”

It’s an odd answer. Predictive epidemiological models are designed to be updated on a daily basis, as new information becomes available. The first cases of COVID-19 in Iowa were reported on March 8. Even assuming IDPH, unlike health agencies in other states or the CDC and the White House Coronavirus Task Force, felt the pandemic had to be spreading in Iowa for a month before any usual predictive models could be created, it doesn’t explain why the department hasn’t provided the datasets it agreed to give to the UI College of Public Health almost a week ago.

The contract between IDPH and the College of Public Health was signed on April 7, the AP reported on Monday morning.

According to the AP, the contract states the college will deliver the “predictive models within two weeks of receiving the department’s patient data, or on another mutually agreed upon schedule.”

The contract also specifies that all information from the modeling — including projections of the virus spread, its intensity and the number of deaths it is likely to cause — is for IDPH to use “internally with other state agencies to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.” The contract “bars the university from publishing any findings before April 2021 unless approved by the state epidemiologist,” the AP reported.

At the press conference on Monday, Caroline Cummings of KGAN asked the governor, “What can the public reasonably expect to learn and see about any state modeling, or are you intending to keep all of that information private?”

“Well, Caroline, I think you know the answer to that question,” Reynolds said. “We’ve been very transparent throughout this entire process.”

This, of course, is not true.

Despite almost daily questions about “the metrics” Reynolds said guided her decisions regarding COVID-19, it wasn’t until the governor’s press conference on March 24 that Reisetter revealed the four basic metrics IDPH is using in its decision-making process.

And it wasn’t until April 2 that either the governor or IDPH offered a public explanation of that decision-making process. By then, the information was already public, because the Press-Citizen had published an internal IDPH document explaining how the department was determining their response to COVID-19.

After congratulating herself and IDPH for being “transparent,” Reynolds offered a vague assurance that the public would eventually see the College of Public Health’s models.

“We’ll work through that,” she said. “We’ll release it at some point.”

On Monday, IDPH reported another 123 Iowans have tested positive for COVID-19, including seven residents of Johnson County and 15 residents of Linn County.

• Allamakee County, 2 adults (18-40 years)

• Benton County, 1 middle age adult (41-60 years), 2 older adult (61-80 years)

• Black Hawk County, 9 adults (18-40 years), 3 middle-age adults (41-60 years), 3 older adults (61-80 years)

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

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

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

• Cedar County, 1 adult (18-40 years)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• Linn County, 5 adults (18-40 years), 5 middle-age adults (41-60 years), 3 older adults (61-80 years), 2 elderly adults (81+)

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

• Lyon County, 1 adult (18-40 years)

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

• Marshall County, 1 adult (18-40 years), 4 middle-age adults (41-60 years), 1 older adult (61-80 years)

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

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

• Polk County, 5 adults (18-40 years), 5 middle-age adults (41-60 years), 4 older adults (61-80 years), 1 elderly adult (81+)

• Scott County, 1 adult (18-40 years), 2 older adults (61-80 years)

• Story County, 1 adult (18-40 years)

• Tama County, 4 adults (18-40 years), 6 middle-age adults (41-60 years), 1 older adult (61-80 years), 4 elderly adults (81+)

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

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

• Washington County, 1 adult (18-40 years), 5 middle-age adults (41-60 years), 2 older adults (61-80 years)

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

IDPH also reported two deaths on Monday. One of the deceased was a resident of Linn County, who was over the age of 80; the other lived in Muscatine County and was between the ages of 61 and 80. The two deaths brings the reported total of COVID-19 fatalities in Iowa to 43.

At her press conference, Gov. Reynolds said she would be unveiling a new state website tomorrow that will provide more data about COVID-19 in Iowa, including new information. She did not explain what the new information would be.

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