Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds holds a press conference on COVID-19 at the State Emergency Operations Center in Johnston, Iowa, on Monday, May 4, 2020. (Photo Credit: Olivia Sun/The Des Moines Register)

DES MOINES, Iowa – Gov. Kim Reynolds said that data, not politics, is behind last week’s decision to ease COVID-19 mitigation restrictions in 77 counties and allow religious organizations across the state to hold in-person worship services.

David Pitt, with the Associated Press, asked Reynolds at her press conference on Monday at the State Emergency Operations Center in Johnston, Iowa, how she balances between the political pressure she is getting at “realities on the ground.”

“It isn’t political,” Reynolds replied. “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.”

She said she is following the advice and recommendations provided by the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) and its epidemiologist team. The governor noted Iowa had aligned well with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance.

“These are some of the hardest decisions that I’ve had to make as a governor of this great state. We had a growing economy; our cash reserves are full. Our fiscal health was strong. Iowans were doing well; our unemployment rate was low. And to have this pandemic hit the state and our country and have an impact Iowans in businesses and families in the manner that it has is heart-wrenching to talk about the amount of deaths and the people that have lost their lives due to COVID-19 and how we manage all of that,” Reynolds said.

“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 and the livelihood of Iowans,” she added.

Reynolds noted an increase in substance abuse and food insecurity, as well as over 200,000 Iowans file for unemployment, are things her administration takes into consideration as well when making decisions.

“Iowans are meant to work, and we need to open back up, but we have to do it in a safe and responsible manner. So, I’m not this isn’t political and it shouldn’t be for anybody, and I don’t believe it is, it’s about trying to do the right thing in an unprecedented time to really manage the health and well being of Iowans and their livelihood,” she said.

Reynolds said she is confident in the information she has received from IDPH and will continue to base her decisions on that.

She also pointed out the state’s ability to do expanded tests and contact tracing to contain outbreaks.

Iowa, due to increased testing and the State Hygenic Lab clearing a backlog, saw a spike in cases after the weekend. IDPH reported 1,284 additional positive cases of COVID-19 over the weekend and 534 additional positive tests on Monday. There are 9,703 positive cases in 91 counties. Reynolds noted that 85 percent of Monday’s tests were in the 22 counties still under the original restrictions. There have been 57,161 Iowans tested, a ratio of one in every 55 Iowans.

Since Friday, an additional 18 Iowans have died for a total of 188. Reynolds pointed out that almost all of the state’s deaths were among older Iowans or at-risk due to underlying conditions, and many were long-term care (LTC) facility residents. Iowa currently has 28 outbreaks in LTC facilities.

Also, 3486 Iowans have recovered for a recovery rate of 36 percent among those who test positive for COVID-19.

Currently, there are 389 Iowans hospitalized, with 37 being new admissions, 143 in ICU, and 93 on ventilators. There are 4,179 inpatient beds, 552 ICU beds, and 666 ventilators currently available.

Iowa also saw it’s the first resident in a facility operated by the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) test positive at Woodward Resource Center in Boone County. DHS Director Kelly Garcia confirmed there are now six cases at that facility. She added that nine DHS employees at five of six of their facilities also tested positive.

She noted that the department began implementing mitigation protocols on March 10, started screening visitors on March 12 and suspended visitation the next day. Garcia said that DHS implemented daily screening of staff and residents on March 15. She added all staff started wearing masks while in patient areas on April 1, and on April 25, all she ordered all staff members to wear them at all times.

“Our goal has been to create an environment that when staff become ill, they feel supported. They notify us, they stay home, and they seek testing, we will continue to follow strict protocols to prevent the further spread of this virus,” Garcia stated.

Listen to the full press conference:

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