Gov. Kim Reynolds extends closures of schools, businesses through end of April
Gov. Reynolds announces 52 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, April 1. Des Moines Register
As Iowa's confirmed COVID-19 cases continue to climb, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds extended to April 30 business and school closures, the suspension of non-essential surgeries and a ban on gatherings of more than 10 people.
The school closures had been set to expire April 13, while the other restrictions were scheduled to lapse Tuesday.
Iowa lawmakers on Thursday also suspended the legislative session until April 30. Lawmakers originally voted March 17 to suspend the session until April 13.
The 100-day session normally runs from January through April.
The measures came as Iowa reported another 66 positive tests for COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus, for a total of 614 cases — a 12% increase over the total number reported on Wednesday.
There also were two more reported deaths related to the disease, for 11 since the start of the pandemic.
Tests are limited and prioritized to specific demographics, meaning the number of infected Iowans is likely much higher, according to doctors. There have been 8,054 negative coronavirus tests in Iowa.
All of Iowa’s K-12 schools have been closed since March 15 at the governor's recommendation to stem the spread of the coronavirus. There were 22 Iowans who had tested positive for COVID-19 when that recommendation was made.
"Keeping Iowa students out of classrooms is a difficult decision, but it's important to do that now," Reynolds said at Thursday news conference.
While Reynolds did not recommend schools close for the rest of the school year, Des Moines Public Schools is preparing for its buildings to be closed for the remainder of the school year. It was the first school district to announce an extended closure, on March 12, due to concerns of the virus’ spread.
Superintendent Tom Ahart told board members during a meeting Thursday that the district is setting aside return plans and focusing its time and energy on launching online learning.
"It would be irresponsible for us, as a district, to put our staff and our students at risk," board member Dwana Bradley said.
In Reynolds' press conference, she and Dr. Caitlin Pedati, the state medical director and epidemiologist, unveiled a map of Iowa to illustrate how Iowa officials view the severity of the coronavirus pandemic in Iowa. The map breaks the state into six regions based on health care resources, Pedati said. Each region is numbered on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the most severe.
A 10 is also when internal metrics used by state officials call for a shelter-in-place order, according to a document obtained by the Iowa City Press-Citizen. The governor’s office subsequently released the document after only talking about it in general terms previously.
So far, all the regions rated between 5 and 7 on the scale. Northeast Iowa was the mildest, at 5, while north-central Iowa and eastern Iowa rated 7. The southwest and south-central regions, including Des Moines, rated 6.
The scale weighs infection rates, hospitalizations, age demographics and the number of outbreaks in long-term care facilities. An outbreak is when three or more residents at a facility test positive for the disease. One facility, Heritage Specialty Care in Cedar Rapids, has met that classification.
“This is good information that we receive through the day and look at it constantly to help us understand what’s going on,” Pedati said.
Two of Iowa’s members of Congress, along with local leaders in Des Moines, Iowa City and Linn County — the current epicenter of the disease in Iowa — have called on Reynolds to implement more severe restrictions, such as a shelter-in-place order, to slow the disease.
Reynolds has remained firm, however, that the data does not warrant that level of response. She and Pedati have instead asked Iowans to limit their trips and to stay home.
“Some people are going to get mildly ill with this virus, and so staying home, staying away from other people, even if you just feel that you have a little bit of a cough and a sore throat, is really important to do to help protect yourself, the people around you and (limit) the ability of the virus to move in Iowa in general,” Pedati said.
Meanwhile, the economic toll of the virus and the measures to control it have resulted in record unemployment claims.
According to figures released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Labor, 58,453 Iowans filed for unemployment in the week ending Saturday. That is the most single-week claims in state history.
The second-most claims came the previous week, when 41,890 Iowans filed for unemployment. The data from the last two weeks brings the total to 100,343.
Iowa's record came as about 6.6 million people filed for unemployment insurance last week across the United States, also a record. The figure doubles the previous record of 3.3 million Americans, set a week earlier.
The businesses currently closed in Iowa as part of Reynolds' public health emergency proclamation include movie theaters, bars, casinos, restaurant dining rooms, gyms, bookstores, clothing and shoe stores, luggage stores, cosmetic, perfume and beauty supply stores, furniture stores, florists and home furnishing stores.
President Donald Trump said Sunday that the federal government would extend its own social distancing guidelines through April 30.
Des Moines Register reporter Stephen Gruber-Miller contributed to this report.
Nick Coltrain is a politics and data reporter for the Register. Reach him at email@example.com or at 515-284-8361. Your subscription makes work like this possible. Subscribe today at DesMoinesRegister.com/Deal.