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Health Experts Urged 'Great Caution' Days Before Reynolds Announced Plan To Reopen

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Courtesy of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Novel Coronavirus

University of Iowa public health experts submitted a report to state leaders recommending they keep social distancing measures in place days before the governor announced she will allow religious services and some businesses to start back up.

The report—first obtained Tuesday by the Des Moines Register—states COVID-19 prevention measures should remain in place, or “a second wave of infections is likely.”

The researchers write they found evidence of slowing infection and death rates due to Iowa’s social distancing policies, but no evidence that the state’s peak in daily deaths has been reached.

They say there is still “considerable uncertainty” in how many coronavirus cases and deaths Iowa could have, with potential deaths ranging from 150 to more than 10,000.

The report states researchers did not see sufficient evidence to conclude that measures in place in Iowa at the time of its writing would be sufficient to prevent higher rates of disease transmission and death.

“These results indicate that great caution is needed at this early stage before loosening of potentially insufficient containment measures is considered,” the report reads.

State officials signed an agreement with the University of Iowa College of Public Health earlier this month asking university researchers to develop Iowa-specific coronavirus models.

Days after receiving this report, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced 77 of Iowa’s 99 counties can start to reopen restaurants, malls, retail stores and fitness centers starting May 1. She also said religious services of more than 10 people, farmers markets and elective medical procedures can resume this week across the state.

On Wednesday, Reynolds was asked why she did not follow the report’s recommendations.

“So, that’s a snapshot in time,” Reynolds said of the report submitted last week. She added she appreciates the work that went into the report.

Reynolds defended her decision to start reopening some parts of the state, saying more testing and the online assessments through the new Test Iowa program allowed her to “drill down” and look at virus activity at the county level.

“And so I shouldn’t punish half of the state when we’ve got a significant spike in eight areas,” Reynolds said.

Test Iowa is not close to meeting its daily testing goal yet, so public health experts are concerned there isn’t enough testing to know the full scope of virus activity across the state. People could potentially travel to different counties and infect each other.

Twelve additional deaths were announced Wednesday, the biggest one-day increase so far, along with 467 additional confirmed coronavirus cases.

Reynolds was asked which parts of the UI report she disagreed with, and she had Iowa Department of Public Health Deputy Director Sarah Reisetter step in.

“A model is a model, it’s a forecast. It’s an estimate of what we might see,” Reisetter said. “We appreciate the work the university has done in providing that information to us. As the governor has started to open things up in a few counties, you’ll notice that social distancing and a lot of the guidance we’ve already provided—they’re part of that reopening.”

She said vulnerable Iowans should continue to stay home, even in the 77 counties where some businesses are reopening.

Read the report from the University of Iowa here.

This post was updated Wednesday, April 29, at 5:03 p.m. 

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter