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Reynolds Urges Iowans To Slow Spread Of COVID-19, Announces No New Mitigation Measures

governor reynolds in her formal office
Katarina Sostaric
IPR News
Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Thursday she will launch a public relations campaign urging Iowans to take health precautions against COVID-19.

In response to Iowa’s surging coronavirus infections and hospitalizations, Gov. Kim Reynolds said Thursday she will launch a public awareness campaign urging Iowans to take public health precautions. She did not announce new mitigation measures to slow the spread of the virus.

Iowa set new records for infections and hospitalizations Thursday, with 4,562 new infections reported in the past 24 hours and 839 patients with COVID-19 in Iowa hospitals. The 14-day rolling total of COVID-19 deaths reached 190 last week, nearing the springtime record of 193 deaths in two weeks.

Reynolds said election victories for Republicans in the state this week show Iowans support her approach.

“It was a validation of our balanced response to COVID-19, one that is mindful of both public health and economic health,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds said in the month of October, Iowa had more than 41,000 new cases of COVID-19, the statewide test positivity rate averaged 14.3 percent, and hospitalizations increased from 393 on Oct. 1 to 676 on Oct. 31. She said contact tracing shows much of the spread is coming from small gatherings.

Reynolds and two hospital leaders at her news conference Thursday pleaded with Iowans to wear masks, avoid gatherings, practice social distancing and get a flu shot.

Reynolds said the next three weeks are critical for Iowans to try to get the pandemic under control.

“I understand that many people are tired of living differently because of COVID-19,” Reynolds said. “But in the big picture, these are really small sacrifices, and they will help us manage the virus while living life. But I need your help to make that happen.”

There have been no restrictions on businesses or gatherings in Iowa for months, except for a temporary closure of bars in a few counties, so many Iowans have not been living that differently.

The Thursday news conference was Reynolds' first formal news conference focused on the state’s COVID-19 response since Oct. 7, when there were 444 people hospitalized.

Reynolds said hospitals have not been overwhelmed, but they won't be able to keep up if cases keep increasing this quickly.

Hospital leaders say they’re very worried about health care workers.

Dr. Dave Williams, chief clinical officer at UnityPoint Health, said health care workers are physically and mentally exhausted from battling this virus.

“We’ve been spending eight months taking care of you, taking care of your family, taking care of your friends,” Williams said. “My plea to everybody watching this today: take care of my family. It’s time to take care of the health care workers… It’s time to get this pandemic under control.”

On Thursday, the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics announced it’s adding additional ICU beds for statewide transfers and increasing staffing to prepare for a potential surge in cases.

This follows the state’s largest hospital’s decision last week to start delaying non-essential procedures as needed.

UIHC CEO Suresh Gunasekaran said this is part of the first level of the hospital’s surge capacity plan, which will go into effect next week through Jan. 3 of next year.

“We're being proactive. We are absolutely prepared for a surge being able to implement this,” he said. “However, we're also profoundly worried about what it means to the overall healthcare system if we have to do it.”

Gunasekaran said current conditions at the hospital are “completely manageable,” but said if case numbers and hospitalizations continue to increase at their current rates, it could overwhelm the system.

“When we modify our behavior, that number will flatten out, it really will, and we've seen that two other times here,” he said, referring to the other times Iowa saw significant spikes in COVID-19 cases in the spring and summer.

As coronavirus cases spike across the Midwest, the most recent report from the White House Coronavirus Task Force says Iowa has the nation’s sixth highest rate of new cases and fifth highest rate of test positivity. It recommends always wearing a mask in public and urges Iowans to stop gatherings of people that are not in the same household.

Reynolds spent much of the past few weeks campaigning for Republican candidates, and photos and videos of these events show many attendees not wearing masks and not socially distanced.

Asked about this, Reynolds said many events were outdoors, masks were handed out to people, and temperatures were taken. It’s not clear if these measures were taken at all events or just the rallies held by President Trump and Vice President Pence, which Reynolds encouraged Iowans to attend last month.

“We can’t prohibit first amendment rights,” Reynolds said. “People that are peacefully out there gathering and protesting, whatever it may be, not everybody is wearing a mask. So we’re going to continue to talk about the importance of doing that.”

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter
Natalie Krebs is IPR's Health Reporter