Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds held a press conference on COVID-19 at the State Emergency Operations Center in Johnston, Iowa, on Wednesday, April 29, 2020. She was joined by Sarah Reisetter (on left), deputy director of the Iowa Department of Public Health. (Photo Credit: Kelsey Kremer/The Des Moines Register)

DES MOINES, Iowa – On Wednesday, Gov. Kim Reynolds received push back from members of the press about plans to begin loosening some of the restrictions implemented in response to COVID-19. 

Last Friday, Reynolds announced that health care providers could begin to schedule elective and non-essential procedures provided they meet specific criteria with personal protective equipment. She also released the restrictions on farmers’ markets with restrictions. 

On Monday, she announced that restaurants, fitness centers, malls, libraries, race tracks, and certain other retail establishments in 77 of Iowa’s 99 counties could begin to re-open on May 1 with limited capacity and public health measures in place. She also lifted the suspension on religious and spiritual gatherings of more than ten people statewide. 

University of Iowa researchers in a report for the Iowa Department of Public Health warned that a second wave of infections is likely if the state’s mitigation restrictions were lifted. They wrote, “We have found evidence of a slowdown in infection and mortality rates due to social distancing policies, but not that a peak has been reached.”

A reporter asked Reynolds if she planned to attend a church service or farmers’ market this weekend. 

“You know, I don’t know,” she said. “But isn’t this a wonderful thing? Isn’t this great? Iowans are going to decide. Churches are going to decide. It’s not a mandate. It’s an option.”

“So we have some that are going to continue to stay closed, and that’s wonderful because they provided opportunities to their members for online services. We have maybe some services in smaller communities that it’s a smaller congregation, they’re going to social distance, they’re going to make a combination so that their congregation feels safe about coming,” Reynolds added.

She said it is a decision that Iowans and churches will have to make for themselves. 

Reynolds noted that her church, Lutheran Church of Hope, a multi-site congregation in the Des Moines area, still plans to hold their worship services online. 

“That’s a decision that they made that’s worked out really well for us, and I’ve been so so so appreciative of that. So that’s probably what we’ll continue to do,” she said.

Reynolds added that the Des Moines Farmers’ Market decided to go virtual, while another farmers’ market limited their number of vendors.

She explained why she didn’t extend all restrictions statewide through May 15 following the University of Iowa researchers’ recommendations. She said the model they submitted is “a snapshot in time” and provided, along with The University of Washington’s IHME model, offered “a wide range of outcomes and recommendations.”

Reynolds noted that Iowa was able to “flatten the curve” due to the mitigation efforts put into place, the additional testing capability the state now has, and Iowans’ response. 

“We were able to mitigate the impact on our healthcare resources as well as not overwhelming our healthcare facilities,” she said. 

Reynolds added they learn more daily as additional data comes in.

“It’s rapidly changing as we’re gathering information, we’re really able to look at things on a case by case real-time basis. And so I think it makes sense to start to loosen up in areas that have seen little to no virus activity and to do it in a responsible manner. So it’s not sustainable for us to continue to lock the state down, we need to start to open it up in a responsible manner in areas that we feel are we’ve seen a stabilization and a downward turn,” she said.

“We’ll monitor it, which we can, and see how the state responds to lifting some of the mitigation efforts and start to move forward,” Reynolds added.

She argued that 96 percent of Tuesday’s reported new cases and 93 percent of Wednesday’s new cases came from the 22 counties where, except for church services, restrictions were not lifted. 

“That’s why I didn’t open it up statewide that we decided to do it on a county by county basis. And we’re going to continue to reevaluate every single day and make informed decisions to protect the health of Iowans but also the livelihood of Iowans as well,” Reynolds said. 

She also argued that the state has to consider the number of unemployment claims, food insecurity issues, increased mental health concerns, increased substance abuse, and increased domestic abuse, as well as concerns about the spread of COVID-19.

“There are a lot of criteria that (go) into the decisions that are being made. And so we’re going to continue to evaluate that and move forward,” Reynolds said.

The governor said she would not have moved forward with starting to open the state up if she believed Iowa wasn’t ready. 

“As we move forward, I didn’t just rip the band-aid off or flip the light switch. We’re doing it in a reasonable, phased-in approach. We’ll continue to look at the data. And we’ll continue to work with Iowans, and I believe in Iowans, and I know they will do the responsible thing,” Reynolds stated.

The Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) on Wednesday reported 467 additional positive cases of COVID-19. That brings the statewide total to 6,843 cases. There were 1,047 negative tests for a total of 34,494 negative cases. So far, 41,337 Iowans have been tested for COVID-19 equaling one in 76 Iowans tested. 

IDPH reports that 2,428 Iowans have recovered for a recovery rate of 35 percent of those testing positive for COVID-19. 

Twelve additional Iowans have passed away due to COVID-19 bring the death toll to 148. 

According to IDPH, the additional deaths are from the following counties:

  • Black Hawk County, one elderly adult (81+) 
  • Dubuque County, one older adult (61-80 years) 
  • Jasper County, one elderly adult
  • Linn County, one middle-age adult (41-60 years), two older adults, one elderly adult 
  • Marshall County, one elderly adult
  • Muscatine County, one elderly adult
  • Polk County, one elderly adult
  • Pottawattamie County, one adult (18-40 years) 
  • Washington County, one elderly adult

According to the Regional Medical Coordination Centers, 323 Iowans are hospitalized with COVID-19, including 43 admissions in the last 24 hours, 100 patients in ICU, and 74 on ventilators. 

Currently, there are 3,971 inpatient beds, 549 ICU beds, and 689 ventilators available statewide. 

Listen to the full press conference:

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