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Get the latest news about the novel coronavirus from Iowa Public Radio and NPR News.

Liveblog: 68 COVID-19 Cases Confirmed

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Matt Rourke
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AP Photo
Healthcare workers stand by at a COVID-19 temporary testing site at Abington Hospital in Abington, Pa., Wednesday, March 18, 2020. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some it can cause more severe illness.

Iowa businesses, school districts and citizens continue to respond to the escalating COVID-19 pandemic. Updates and news regarding the spread of the virus in Iowa for the week of March 15-21 are available here. 

Do you have questions about how the outbreak is being handled in Iowa? Fill out this form, and we'll try to answer as many of your questions as we can with our reporting. 

Find a map tracking the spread of COVID-19 across the U.S. here, and find the latest news from NPR here. 

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Saturday, March 21

12:21 p.m. - 23 additional COVID-19 cases announced

The Iowa Department of Public Health has been notified of 23 additional positive cases of Iowans with COVID-19, for a total of 68 positive cases. 

Today's cases were identified as residents of Allamakee (2), Black Hawk (2), Dubuque (1), Fayette (1), Henry (1), Johnson (5), Linn (3), Muscatine (1), Polk (4), Pottawattamie (1), Story (1) and Washington (1) counties. 

Gov. Reynolds will hold a press conference on Sun., March 22 at 2:30 p.m. The press conference can be livestreamed through Iowa Public Radio's website. 

Friday, March 20

5:51 p.m. - Eastern Iowa hospital asks Iowans to make fabric face masks

A Cedar Rapids hospital is asking Iowans to make fabric face masks to help expand their stock of personal protective equipment. UnityPoint Health – Cedar Rapids says the hospital currently has an adequate supply but they’re preparing for a potential nationwide shortage due to the novel coronavirus.

Hospital staff will sanitize the masks and add protective filters and elastic bands. Finished masks can be delivered to the St. Luke’s Foundation in Cedar Rapids.

5:40 p.m. - Special elections rescheduled

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate has rescheduled three upcoming city and county special elections for July 7th because of COVID-19. Cities in Black Hawk and Plymouth counties are looking to fill council seats. Woodbury County has a vacant county supervisor seat to fill.

Officials in the three counties were previously encouraging people to vote by mail so they could stay safe.

Pate’s office says under Iowa law, these elections can’t be held the day of or within four weeks of the June 2 primary. July 7 was the first available date.

5:08 p.m. - Hy-Vee seeks temporary hourly employees

Hy-Vee, Inc. announces today that it is seeking temporary, part-time hourly employees to help fill multiple positions in stores across its eight-state region as well as its distribution centers.

With the recent surge in demand for groceries in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hy-Vee is looking to hire individuals for temporary, part-time positions to help with restocking as well as cleaning and sanitizing. 

3:58 p.m. - Iowa seeing 'unprecedented' unemployment claims as COVID-19 spreads

The head of Iowa’s agency that handles unemployment insurance said Friday they are seeing an “unprecedented” number of unemployment claims as Iowans get laid off or are unable to work because of COVID-19.

Townsend said 162 workforce development employees who work in other areas of the agency are being re-trained to take calls about unemployment insurance to help with long wait times.

The state is granting unemployment benefits and relaxing rules for people laid off because of COVID-19, people who can’t work because they’re self-isolating or because they are caring for children during school closures.

3:17 p.m. - Iowa Utilities Board urges all utilities companies to temporarily ban disconnection of service

Until the Covid-19 crisis eases, the Iowa Utilities Board is urging all utilities companies, especially those providing water service, to temporarily ban disconnection of service to customers for to late payments. The IUB also recommends all telecommunications companies suspend service shutoff to customers until further notice.

12:09 p.m. - Additional COVID-19 case in Iowa

The Iowa Department of Public Health has been notified of an additional positive case of COVID-19 in Iowa, bringing the total number of positive cases to 45. The additional case was identified as a resident of Allamakee county. 

9:14 a.m. - Gov. Reynolds signs additional State Public Health Emergency Declaration 

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Friday she is suspending most evictions, property tax collection penalties, and some other state regulations in response to COVID-19. The measures are part of an additional state public health emergency declaration signed by Reynolds. 

The declaration signed by Reynolds says allowing evictions at this time “would prevent, hinder, or delay necessary action in coping with this disaster in all counties of our state and reduction in evictions will help prevent the transmission of infectious disease and help ensure that cases of COVID-19 are properly controlled and treated.”

Read more via IPR's Katarina Sostaric. 

Thursday, March 19

7:24 p.m. - Advocates call for release of incarcerated Iowans to lower risk of cellblock outbreak of COVID-19

Advocates across the country are raising concerns about the potential that a COVID-19 outbreak could hit a jail or prison and spill over into the general public and the broader healthcare system. Now some groups are calling on Iowa to follow steps taken by other states to drastically reduce the number of people behind bars in order to slow the spread of the virus.

Read more via IPR's Kate Payne. 

7:19 p.m. - COVID-19 strands Iowans in Peru

Two dozen Iowans including a teacher from Ames are among more than 1,600 U.S. residents who have signed a spreadsheet indicating they are unable to get home from Peru because of COVID-19-related travel restrictions.

Read more via IPR’s Amy Mayer.

3:42 p.m. - Additional COVID-19 cases identified 

Gov. Reynolds has announced an additional 6 confirmed cases of COVID-19. There are now 44 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Iowa, from 13 counties. The 3 of the confirmed cases are residents in Polk county and 1 each from Muscatine, Dubuque and Johnson counties. 

Gov. Reynolds reiterated that individuals feeling sick should stay home. 

1:11 p.m. - Filing and payment deadlines extended for state income taxes

The Iowa Department of Revenue has extended the filing and payment deadlines for several state tax types including income tax until July 31, 2020. 

“The changes, prompted by COVID-19, are designed to provide flexibility to hard-working Iowans whose lives have been disrupted. The changes are a result of an order signed earlier today by Director of Revenue Kraig Paulsen,” the state department of revenue wrote in a press release Thursday.

12:53 p.m. - Courts remain open for emergency matters

Most court proceedings in Iowa are on hold to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but county clerk of court offices are still working as of Thursday to handle emergency needs.

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State Court Administrator Todd Nuccio said even if county courthouse buildings are closed to the public, information should be posted outside for contacting the clerk of court.

“At this point, we’re focusing on emergency matters—things like domestic abuse protective orders, elder abuse proceedings, child removal proceedings, hospitalization, mental health commitment—those types of actions that require immediate intervention by the court,” Nuccio said.

Alex Kornya, litigation director for Iowa Legal Aid says he is very grateful the court system is trying to stay open to handle emergency issues, but COVID-19 could result in additional barriers to getting legal help.

Kornya said he also has concerns about courts being allowed to proceed with evictions, but did not advocate for a specific manner in which those could be paused.

Read more via IPR state government reporter Katarina Sostaric.

12:34 p.m. - Broadband providers agree to 'Keep Americans Connected'

With adults working from home and some students expected to continue their classwork online, demand for internet access has shifted from workplaces to residential ones. The Federal Communications Commission created a Keep Americans Connected pledge, and many Midwest internet service providers have signed on.

The pledge means companies agree they will waive late fees and won't cancel residential or small business subscriptions due to unpaid bills. Also, they will open their wi-fi hotspots to anyone who needs to use them. 

More than 200 companies large and small have taken the pledge, including some of the biggest regional and national providers such as AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, Google Fiber, Mediacom and CenturyLink.

Many smaller providers have also committed, including Clear Lake Telephone Company and Farmers Mutual Cooperative Telephone Company in Iowa and Great Plains Communications in Nebraska.

 9:51 a.m. - Drake Relays canceled

Tuesday afternoon organizers for the Drake Relays announced they would postpone the 2020 event scheduled for April 22-25 at Drake Stadium.

“The health, safety, and wellbeing of Drake Relays presented by Xtream participants and fans, along with guidance from local and national health officials, have been at the forefront of the decision-making process,” organizers wrote in a press release.

 7:44 a.m. - Public health officials asking Iowans to donate extra personal protective equipment

State public health officials are asking Iowans to donate extra personal protective equipment or PPE to help address the coronavirus.

The specific request for donations is for any kind of healthcare PPE, items such as gowns, gloves, eye protection and masks, we know those are in short supply. - Steve O'Konek, Linn County Emergency Management Agency

The Iowa Department of Public Health says stockpiles of masks, gloves and gowns are being used up quickly as the state grapples with community spread of the coronavirus. Local leaders say healthcare providers and first responders are bracing for a shortage.

Steve O’Konek heads the Linn County Emergency Management Agency.

“The specific request for donations is for any kind of healthcare PPE, items such as gowns, gloves, eye protection and masks, we know those are in short supply," she says. 

Residents and businesses with extra PPE can contact their local emergency management agency or health department. 

Hospitals across the state are also postponing elective surgeries as part of the massive effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. Dustin Arnold, Chief Medical Officer of UnityPoint Health says the decision was made in part in order to preserve the supply of protective gear.

“This is all in an effort to conserve supplies. We do all we can to have enough personal protective equipment for everyone and keep our healthcare providers safe,” he said.

 7: 25 a.m. - Iowa DOT relaxes deadlines 

On Tuesday, the Iowa DOT relaxed some of its policies in response to the spread of the novel coronavirus in Iowa.

  • Driver’s licenses: If you have a driver’s license that has an expiration date of Jan. 16, 2020, or later you do not have to renew your license at this time. It will remain valid for driving purposes until the declared disaster has ended.  
  • Vehicle titles, registration and license plates: If your vehicle registration expired Jan. 16, 2020, or later will be considered valid until the declared disaster has ended.  
  • Driver’s service centers: Driver’s license and ID business is being conducted by appointment. All non-commercial drive tests will be discontinued and rescheduled to a future date. 

Read more here.

Wednesday, March 18

5:36 p.m. - Additional COVID-19 cases identified in Iowa

The Iowa Department of Public Health has announced nine additional positive cases of Iowans with COVID-19 Tuesday, bringing the total to 38 confirmed positive cases.

Three of the new cases are in people who live in Johnson County; two each are residents of Polk and Dallas county; and one each from Washington and Winneshiek counties. These are the first cases in both Washington and Winneshiek counties.

4:44 p.m. - Iowa health officials say most Iowans will not need to be tested for COVID-19

In a video statement released Monday afternoon, State Medical Director Dr. Caitlin Pedati said because of a limited supply of tests, patients that are hospitalized and healthcare workers will be prioritized for testing.

Pedati said those with underlying conditions or questions about their health should call their provider to see if they need an evaluation, while most Iowans should just stay home when sick.

 3:26 p.m. - University of Iowa, Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa students will not return to in person classes this spring

Students at the University of Iowa will not return to in person classes for the rest of the spring semester. School administrators announced further shutdowns Wednesday as Johnson County grapples with community spread of the novel coronavirus.

Online classes will resume Mon., March 30 and will be held virtually through the end of the semester. The campus is closing key buildings, including libraries, the student union and most dorms. School leaders are also canceling spring commencement ceremonies.

Shortly after the University of Iowa announced they would be canceling commencement and moving coursework online, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa sent press releases they would take the same action to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Iowa. 

Virtual instruction for Iowa State University and University or Northern Iowa students will begin on Monday, March 23. 

12:54 p.m. - Senator Joni Ernst says Senate is "considering" direct payments to Iowans impacted by COVID-19

The U.S. Treasury Department wants to start issuing direct payments to Americans by early next month.

That’s part of a $1 trillion plan to stabilize the economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The treasury plan requires approval by Congress. Iowa Republican U.S. Senator Joni Ernst says the Senate is considering the direct payments. 

"What we do know is that we need to find the most effective and efficient way to delivering immediate relief to our families in Iowa." - U.S. Senator Joni Ernst

“What we do know is that we need to find the most effective and efficient way to deliver immediate relief to our families in Iowa,” she said on a call with reporters.

Ernst says she cannot say at this time whether she supports the $1,000 direct payments or not, but she’s considering it. 

Agricultural groups in Iowa are also saying they’re concerned about the coronavirus’s effect on recent trade deals, according to the senator.

Ernst says she anticipates the pandemic having a negative effect on Iowa’s biofuel industry as Americans are traveling less.

Ernst has canceled some events in the state due to the CDC's recommendation to gather in groups of 10 people or less but says she will continue to fly back and forth between Washington D.C. and Iowa. 

Tuesday, March 17

6:57 p.m. - Additional COVID-19 cases identified in Iowa

The Iowa Department of Public Health was notified of six new positive COVID-19 cases Tuesday, bringing the total to 29 confirmed positive cases in Iowa. 

Three of the new cases are residents of Johnson County and the others are individuals who live in Adair, Blackhawk and Dallas counties.

If you are experiencing symptoms of the novel coronavirus, the IDPH has set up a hotline. Call 2-1-1 or 1-800-244-7431.

1:51 p.m. - Fareway annouces special hours for Iowans in high risk groups amid COVID-19 outbreak

Starting Wednesday, March 18, Fareway grocery stores will reserve their first hour of business for customers who are 65 or older, expecting mothers, those living with a serious medical condition, and anyone with an underlying medical condition that increase susceptibility to serious illness from COVID-19 in all locations.

“We appreciate your advance cooperation from our customers in respecting the hour reserved for those that are at higher risk,” the store wrote in an press release.

New Pioneer Food Co-op in Iowa City has announced they will also offer special hours for seniors, reserving 9-10 a.m. on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday mornings beginning March 19.

Many stores across Iowa are adjusting their hours and limiting quantities of certain high-demand goods as people panic buy supplies they do not need.

In a press conference Monday, Gov. Kim Reynolds stressed to Iowans that grocery stores will remain open and supply chains are not being interrupted by the pandemic.

1:38 p.m. - Nearly 3,000 blood drives canceled, donations needed

Hospitals rely on blood for patients ranging from premature babies to victims of blunt trauma. These are unplanned, unscheduled needs, and there’s no substitute for human blood. LifeServe Blood Center’s Claire DeRoin is encouraging healthy people who are able to find a location and make an appointment to donate. She says even amid the COVID-19 pandemic giving blood presents no threat to the donor. 

“There has not been a transfusion transmission, and that’s really good news and we hope people will realize that, that it’s perfectly safe to come give blood,” DeRoin says.

LifeServe has extended its hours at donation centers in six communities. The American Red Cross has had nearly 3,000 blood drives canceled nationwide and says there’s already a severe blood shortage.

If you’re healthy, you can schedule an appointment to donate blood here. 

10:18 a.m. - Gov. Reynolds orders gyms, bars and restaurants to close at noon Tuesday

Governor Kim Reynolds has issued a State of Public Health Disaster Emergency that goes into effect today at noon.

The actions taken today are necessary to protect the health and safety of all Iowans and are critical to mitigating the spread of the virus. - Gov. Kim Reynolds

“These are unprecedented times and the state of Iowa will do whatever is necessary to address this public health disaster. I have authorized all available state resources, supplies, equipment and materials to combat the spread of COVID-19,” Gov. Reynolds said in a press release. “The actions taken today are necessary to protect the health and safety of all Iowans and are critical to mitigating the spread of the virus.”

Governor Reynolds has ordered the following places close effective at noon and continuing to March 31, 2020:

  • Restaurants and Bars. (food and beverages may be sold if such food or beverages are promptly taken from the premises, such as on a carry-out or drive-through basis, or if the food or beverage is delivered to customers off the premises.)
  • Fitness centers, health clubs, spas, gyms and aquatic centers.
  • Theaters and other performance venues.
  • Casinos and gaming facilities.
  • Mass gatherings. (social, community, spiritual, religious, recreational, leisure, and sporting gatherings and events of more than 10 people are hereby prohibited at all locations and venues, including but not limited to parades, festivals, conventions, and fundraisers. Planned large gatherings and events must be canceled or postponed until after termination of this disaster)
  • Senior citizen centers and adult daycare facilities

https://www.youtube.com/watch?utm_source=govdelivery&feature=youtu.be&utm_medium=email&v=SiExpihDGlk&app=desktop

Monday, March 16

5:00 p.m. - Reynolds says state testing is increasing

Gov. Kim Reynolds said at a press conference that the State Hygenic Laboratory has added a second shift so it can now process up to 108 tests per day. Previously, that number was 54. Reynolds said test results are typically available within 24 hours.

Additionally, three other private national laboratories are able to test for the virus. Reynolds said it's unknown how many tests they can process daily, but they are required to report positive results to the state health department.

4:30 p.m. - Iowa Legislature waives requirement for school days to be rescheduled

The Iowa House and Senate have agreed to waive the requirement for Iowa schools to reschedule canceled school days in response to COVID-19. 

“This decision will provide Iowa school districts with the certainty that they need to make decisions locally and move ahead this school year,” Speaker Pat Grassley (R-New Hartford) wrote in a press release. 

School days and classes previously scheduled for March 16 through April 12 will not be required to be rescheduled. Legislation regarding school cancellation will advance to the governor's desk. 

Here's what we know about what happens now that schools are closing for four weeks. 

4:30 p.m. - Additional case of COVID-19 confirmed in Dallas County

Gov. Kim Reynolds hosted a press conference at 4:30 p.m. to update Iowans about the spread of COVID-19 and to provide further explanation regarding her recommendation that schools should close for four weeks.

The governor said that Iowa is working on drive through testing for COVID-19 but is unsure when that will be available. 

During her update, she confirmed another case of COVID-19 in Dallas County, bringing the total number of cases in Iowa to 23. 

Watch the press conference:

12:35 p.m. - State provides assistance and guidance for employees and employers facing layoffs due to COVID-19 

The governor is providing guidance and assistance for workers and employers who are affected by the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

“Iowa has incredible employers accommodating the needs of Iowans during the disruption caused by COVID-19,” said Gov. Kim Reynolds in a press release. “The state of Iowa is doing everything we can to ease the process and shorten the time it will take for Iowans to receive unemployment benefits. All of our state agencies continue to work as one team to lessen the impact COVID-19 will have on our economy and our people.”   

  • If you are laid off due to COVID-19 or have to stay home to self-isolate, care for family members or due to illness related to COVID-19, you can receive unemployment benefits, provided you meet all other eligibility requirements.  Those requirements essentially include working for wages from an employer who claims you as an employee in six of the last eighteen months and have earned at least $2,500 in the same time period. More specific explanation of benefit eligibility can be found here. 
  • Claimants can expect to receive payment within 7-10 days after the date the claim is filed.
  • Claims that are filed and identified as a direct or indirect result of COVID-19 will not be charged to employers. Fact-finding interviews for these claims will be waived and not be held, although employers will be notified of claims received. 
  • Iowa Workforce Development will process unemployment insurance payments to ensure payment will continue to be paid in a timely manner. 

7:23 a.m. - Sioux City cancel classes, Des Moines Public Schools extend closure

The Sioux City Community School District has canceled school for at least the next four weeks, starting Monday, over concerns surrounding COVID-19.

“With the recognition of the Iowa Governor’s recommendation to close school for the next four weeks, and after continuing to closely monitor the rapidly evolving COVID-19 pandemic over the weekend, the Sioux City Community School District is canceling school effective immediately,” the Sioux City Community School District said in a statement Sunday evening. 

The Sioux City Community School District said it will continue to monitor the COVID-19 pandemic and will communicate about when school will resume “at a later date.”

Des Moines Public Schools, the largest district in the state, last week announced it would close through March 30. On Sunday night, Superintendent Thomas Ahart said in a statement on Twitter that the school district is “making plans” to stay closed until April 13, following Reynolds’ recommendation.

“This is a challenging time for all of us, but we are resilient, and we will navigate this together,” Ahart said.

The Iowa City Community School District announced new campus restrictions and plans to hold a meeting on Tues., March 17 to discuss the situation further. 

Many other K-12 districts across Iowa announced school closures Sunday night as well. Some said they'll be closed until further notice. 

Sunday, March 15

8:16 p.m. - Gov. Kim Reynolds recommends Iowa schools close for four weeks, IDPH confirms 22 total cases

State health officials have identified four new cases of COVID-19, bringing the state’s total number of cases to 22.

Two cases are in Allamakee County of an adult between 41 and 60 and a child under 18. Both are linked to travel. The other two cases are middle-aged adults in Johnson and Polk counties, are not travel-related, and are considered additional cases of community spread.

Based on new information today from the Iowa Department of Public Health, now is the time to move to the next level of response. - Gov. Kim Reynolds

Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a press release that she is recommending that schools close for four weeks.

“Based on new information today from the Iowa Department of Public Health, now is the time to move to the next level of response,” Gov. Reynolds said in a press release. “I am now recommending that all Iowa schools close for a period of four weeks to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”

Reynolds said she will hold a press conference on her recommendation Monday. The Iowa Department of Public Health says one case was identified by a national lab. The department says it expects cases to increase as testing options expand.

4:17 p.m. - Iowa Legislature suspends legislative session

Iowa’s legislative session will be suspended for at least 30 days after state officials confirmed community spread of COVID-19 in Iowa, leaders announced Sunday afternoon.

The House of Representatives and the Senate will gavel in at 1:00 p.m. Monday to work on a resolution that would allow state government agencies to keep operating if the suspension lasts into the new fiscal year that starts July 1. The legislature has to pass a state budget each year, but the session will be suspended before lawmakers have a chance to do that. 

Read more from IPR's state government reporter Katarina Sostaric here. 

1:10 p.m. - City of Des Moines declares state of emergency 

Mayor Frank Cownie declared a state of emergency in the city of Des Moines, which is the state's largest city, on Sunday in response to the news that community spread of COVID-19 is taking place in Iowa.  He is asking Iowans to prepare for cancellations and disruptions to routine activities. 

"I hereby determine that a state of emergency or public danger exists that all gatherings of 250 people or more on public property or right-of-way are hereby prohibited," Cownie said. "Any permits or permissions previously granted are hereby rescinded and any amounts paid for such permits shall be refunded upon request." 

Through the proclamation, the mayor has directed the chief of the Des Moines Police Department "to enforce such direction to avoid any such gatherings whether formally or informally organized." 

Saturday, March 14

8:30 p.m. - Community spread of COVID-19 is happening in Iowa

On Saturday, the Iowa Department of Public Health was notified of an additional positive case of coronavirus in Iowa, bringing the confirmed total to 18 cases.

At a press conference, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced that the Iowa Department of Public Health has determined there is community spread of the virus based on the new case and confirmation of community spread in Omaha, Neb. 

According to the CDC, community spread means people have been infected with the virus who are not sure how or where they became infected. 

Reynolds says Iowans should not hold gatherings of more than 250 people and should reconsider smaller gatherings of older and more vulnerable people. 

There are confirmed cases in Carroll, Dallas, Harrison, Johnson and Pottawattamie counties at this time.

Read more from IPR state government reporter Katarina Sostaric.

Watch the press conference: 

Friday, March 13

Iowa has now identified 17 total cases of COVID-19

Gov. Kim Reynolds said Friday afternoon one more COVID-19 case has been detected in Iowa, bringing the total to 17 cases. The new case is in Harrison County and is linked to travel.

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Reynolds didn’t announce any new statewide measures in response to the new coronavirus. She repeated people should wash their hands, cover their cough, and stay home when sick.

"At this time, Iowa is not experiencing community spread of the virus," Reynolds said. "However, we anticipate it will happen, and now is the time to prepare."  

Reynolds encouraged elderly people, those with underlying health conditions, and people who don’t feel well to avoid large public gatherings and travel.

But she didn’t discourage large gatherings altogether, as governors of some other states have done.

“If you’re sick, stay home. If you’re a vulnerable population with underlying conditions, don’t go to large crowds. Don’t go to big events," Reynolds said. "If you have a cold—I mean take the precautions you need to be taking. We all have a role to play. But we want to keep business open, and we want to make sure we’re protecting the health and wellbeing of Iowans."

Reynolds said because there is no evidence of the disease spreading within the state, her administration is not recommending closing schools at this time. She and Iowa Capitol leaders said the legislative session will continue as planned, with no new restrictions put on public access to the building. 

States like Minnesota and Michigan, which have fewer confirmed COVID-19 cases than Iowa and have not detected community spread of the virus, are recommending canceling large events with 250 or more people. 

"We know that when we ask people to do things like stay home and not go to work or not go to school, those aren't small things to ask of people," State Medical Director Dr. Caitlin Pedati said. "So we really want to be thoughtful and make sure we're using the right indicators to make those recommendations. And they may be different in different communities." 

IUB extends winter moratorium period, halts disconnection for LIHEAP-qualified Iowans

The Iowa Utilities Board has issued an emergency order directing all electric and natural gas utilities in the state to cease disconnection of residential service due to nonpayment.

The emergency order comes in response to a statewide disaster proclamation issued by the governor on March 9 as a part of the state’s response to the coronavirus.

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is designed to help low-income families meet the partial cost of home heating through a one-time payment made directly to the utility or heating fuel vendor. 

Western Iowa Tech ending J-1 visa program early 

Western Iowa Tech Community College in Sioux City is ending its J-1 visa program early because of the global outbreak of COVID-19.

The college is arranging flights home for students. In a statement, it said suspending the program is “an appropriate proactive measure” for students’ health and safety. “The college is working with the students to arrange transportation and flights to their home countries over the following week,” WITCC said in a statement.

Iowa Democratic Party postpones county conventions

The Iowa Democratic Party has announced they will postpone county conventions originally scheduled for March 21 due to the risk of spreading the novel coronavirus. 

The conventions are part of the nominating process for the Democratic Party’s candidate for president.

IDP Chair Mark Smith wrote in an email that the party is planning for the District and State Conventions to proceed as scheduled.

Iowa Democrats should not have to choose between democratic participation and remaining in good health. - IDP Chair Mark Smith

“This is not an easy decision, but we believe it is the right decision,” he wrote. “By their design, caucuses are gatherings built around a sense of community, and throughout every step, we have worked to ensure the process is safe and accessible for every Iowan. However, Iowa Democrats should not have to choose between democratic participation and remaining in good health, and concerns for the well being of our delegates, thousands of volunteers, workers at convention venues and the public come first.”

Iowans can visit the Iowa Department of Public Health’s website for the latest updates and precautions.

Thursday, the Republican Party of Iowa announced that its county conventions will go ahead as scheduled on Sat., March 14. 

Thursday, March 12

Mission Creek Festival is postponed

Shortly after the Iowa Department of Public Health announced two new cases of COVID-19 in the state, Iowa City's Mission Creek Festival emailed ticket holders about the decision to postpone the festival until late-summer or early-fall.

Executive Director Andre Perry wrote in an email that Mission Creek is offering ticket exchanges or refunds if patrons call the Englert Theatre's box during normal business hours, adding that the festival would be appreciative of those who can afford not to ask for a refund. 

"As a nonprofit organization navigating a challenging period, we are extremely appreciative of any patron who donates the cost of their ticket in lieu of a refund, however, we understand that is not always financially possible," Perry wrote. 

Organizers expect to announce new festival dates early next week, including information about changes to the festival's lineup. 

Revenue forecasters say it's too early to predict the economic impact of COVID-19 in Iowa

State revenue forecasters said Thursday it is too early to know the impact the new coronavirus will have on Iowa’s economy as it sends shockwaves through the world economy.

The Revenue Estimating Conference is predicting the state’s revenue will hold steady in the next fiscal year that starts July 1.

The state is still expected to bring in more than $8.2 billion in state fiscal year 2021, which is the year that lawmakers will have to pass a budget for before the legislative session ends. The new estimate gives them about $12 million less than December’s REC estimate.

“When we were putting our estimates together, we did not attempt to predict the fiscal impact of the virus on the state’s economy based on the information that we know,” Department of Management Director Dave Roederer said. “But as additional info becomes available, and if necessary, the REC can always reconvene and take the temperature of where we believe the economy is.”

He added the stock market is fluctuating a lot, but the “fundamentals” of the state and national economies are still strong.

Two new cases of coronavirus announced

Iowa's Department of Public Health has announced two new cases of COVID-19 in the state, bringing the total number of positive cases to 16.  The latest cases are two adults between the ages of 61 and 80.  One lives in Johnson County, and the other in Carroll County. They're both recovering at home in isolation, and are connected to the same Egyptian cruise 13 of Iowa's other positive cases of the coronavirus were on.  

Des Moines Public Schools cancels classes and activities for 17 days

The state’s largest school district has announced that it is cancelling all school classes and programs for 17 days beginning Friday at 6 p.m. through March 30.

The decision was made over the growing concerns over COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

Des Moines Public Schools Superintendent Thomas Ahart said during the closure, the district will deep clean its buildings and monitor the spread of COVID-19 through the state.

"We know that with 5,000 staff and about 33,000 students, we impact every community in the greater metro area," Ahart said. "And so it's incumbent upon us to do what we can to stem the tide and hopefully, slow down the spread of COVID-19."

Ahart said even though there are no reported cases in Polk County, the district is trying to get ahead of the situation.

"We think we're being very proactive as opposed to being in a panic situation. Once we have once we have identified cases in our schools, it's really too late to do meaningful mitigation," he said.

The closure coincides with the district’s scheduled spring break next week and three days of teacher professional development the following week, which will now be done online.

Ahart said the district will provide daily updates.

Wednesday, March 11

COVID-19 patient is at the University of Iowa Hopsital

The University of Iowa Hospital has confirmed that it is caring for a patient with COVID-19. Hospital officials say the patient is in isolation with other patients kept at a "safe distance" and properly protecting health care staff aiding the patient.

Officials said the patient is one of the 13 cases of COVID-19 identified in the state. The other 12 cases in Johnson and Pottawattamie counties are reported to be recovering at home in isolation.

"We may take additional steps, which may include visitor restrictions, and screening of those who are entering our hospital," said Theresa Brennan, chief medical officer of University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

 Many universities switch to online classes

Iowa’s three public universities are planning to transition to online classes later this month to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. 

The University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and the University of Northern Iowa plan to suspend face-to-face instruction from March 23rd through at least April 3rd. 

The campuses will remain open, including residence and dining halls, though ISU is requiring students to register with the campus residence office if they need to return to residence halls right after spring break.

University of Iowa Provost Montserrat Fuentes said officials are going class by class to determine the best way to present them online.

"This is going to be a significant amount of work to get there, and we are going to work tirelessly to meet that goal so we know that everything is ready," Fuentes said. 

ISU Provost Jonathan Wickert said he is meeting with department heads and faculty to plan online classes.

"Many faculty are interested in what resources will be available to them to be able to move their class to an online format," said Wickert. "And we're reinforcing to them that we have staff available in our teaching center and in our information technology offices to assist them."

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Amy Mayer
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IPR

Both the University of Iowa and ISU said they've suspend all university-sponsored international travel for 30 days.

The University of Iowa will recall all students studying abroad in Spain, France and Germany and expects them to be back by next Monday.

Also, Drake University in Des Moines says it will also deliver all courses remotely between March 23rd and April 3rd.  Drake says it’s urging all students to stay home for the two weeks following spring break, though residence and dining halls will remain open.  

Drake also plans to cancel most on-campus events beginning this Saturday through April 5th.  Events happening beyond that period – such as the Drake Relays and commencement – are expected to continue.

Hospitals are limiting visitors

The Polk County Health Department said it is limiting visitors at all Des Moines area hospitals.

Visitors are currently limited to primary caregivers such as parents, guardians, spouses or partners at least 16 years old.

The department has asked that all visitors limit movement in facilities, avoid common areas and do not have any symptoms. Visitors will also be required to wash their hands before entering and exiting the room.

UnityPoint Health has also announced that its hospitals in Waterloo, Marshalltown, Grundy Center and Sumner are also limiting patient visits to just two people, who must be at least 18 years old.

Blood supplies are short

LifeServe Blood Center, which supplies blood to more than 100 hospitals in Iowa and neighboring states said concerns about the coronavirus are having some effect on the blood supply. 

The organization says donor turnout has declined and some mobile blood drives have been canceled.  It’s urging healthy, eligible blood donors to consider donating. 

"Since only healthy blood donors are eligible to give blood, we believe a blood drive or donor center is a safe place to visit and is necessary to ensure blood will be available for local hospital patients," said Christine Hayes, Chief Operating Officer for LifeServe Blood Center, in a statement.

LifeServe staff have begun asking potential donors if they’ve recently traveled to any of the countries considered a risk by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  It said there have been no transmissions of the novel coronavirus through blood transfusions.

 New case of COVID-19

Iowa health officials say there’s one new positive case of the 2019 novel coronavirus in the state.  The Department of Public Health said the new case is an older adult between the ages of 61 and 80.  This person lives in Johnson County and was on the same Egyptian cruise on which 12 other Iowans contracted the COVID-19 illness.  Also today, previous cases identified as “presumptive positive” have now been confirmed positive by the Centers for Disease Control.  Iowa now has 14 confirmed cases of COVID-19.  

Tuesday, March 10

Grinnell College switches to online classes

Grinnell College is switching to online classes through the end of the spring semester and telling students to move off of campus by March 23. 

Iowa identifies five more COVID-19 cases linked to Egypt cruise

State officials identified five more cases of COVID-19 Tuesday evening, bringing the total number of Iowans who tested presumptively positive for the disease caused by the new coronavirus to 13. 

The five new cases are in Johnson County, and all of the individuals went on the same recent Egyptian cruise as the people in the seven other cases in that county. 

Monday, March 9

Iowa health officials have confirmed eight cases of COVID-19

Iowa health officials have identified five additional "presumptive positive" cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. This brings the total cases to eight in Iowa.

Four of the new cases are in Johnson County are in adults between the ages of 60 and 81 years. They were on the same Egyptian cruise as the three cases that were previously identified. This brings the total number of cases in Johnson County to seven.

The other newly identified case is of a middle-aged adult between 41 and 60 who lives in Pottawattamie County and had recently traveled to California.

Sunday, March 8

 Iowa's first three coronavirus cases detected in Johnson County

Iowa’s first three presumptive cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, have been detected in Johnson County, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Sunday.

All three individuals were on a cruise in Egypt. Two of them are older adults between the ages of 61 and 80, and one is middle-aged, between the ages of 41 and 60. Reynolds said none of them required hospitalization, and they are “self-quarantined at home.”