Gov. Reynolds Extends Public Health Proclamation As Hospitalizations, New Infections Decline
Gov. Kim Reynolds announced she's extending the current public health proclamation another week, which includes a partial indoor mask mandate, as public health officials warn new infection rates and hospitalizations remain high.
Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Wednesday she is extending the state’s partial indoor mask requirement and other current COVID-19 restrictions for another week, as some public health experts warn the state's numbers remain high heading into the holiday season.
Under the current public health proclamation, Iowans are required to wear a mask in public areas indoors if they are unable to socially distance from those outside of their household for more than 15 minutes.
It also limits indoor gatherings are limited to 15 people, while outdoor gatherings are limited to 30. Restaurants and bars must issue last call by 10 p.m.
At a press conference Wednesday, Reynolds said she’s extending the proclamation just one week as the state has been experiencing a downward trend in positivity rates, new infections and hospitalizations since mid-November.
Reynolds said she’s only extending her public health proclamation one week but will continues to monitor the state's trends to consider extending them further.
"It's critical that these trends continue throughout this month, and that we continue to reduce the number even further," she said. "We've made good progress over the last few weeks. But our ultimate goal is to get virus activity to a level that we can manage over the next few months."
Reynolds made several small changes to the new proclamation, which is in effect until Dec. 16, including allowing bowling leagues to resume, but with spectators still limited to just two people and easing elective procedure restrictions on hospitals by only requiring them to scale by their procedures by 25 percent, instead of 50 percent.
Reynolds expressed optimism that the state's rate of hospitalizations are decreasing, but said she will review rates on a weekly basis.
"We still have a long ways to go on our hospitals, but they are seeing some relief," she said. "I've said all along we'll dial up and we'll dial back as appropriate, and so that's the same thing that we've done from the beginning of the pandemic."
Hospitalizations in Iowa dropped below 1,000 last Friday for the first time since early November. The state saw new infections rates and hospitalizations rapidly increase late October through mid-November, when they hit a record high of 1,527.
As of Wednesday evening, that number was at 894, with 196 Iowans in the ICU.
At a press briefing on Wednesday, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics CEO Suresh Gunasekaran said hospitalizations in the past two weeks have plateaued, but he said numbers are still significantly higher than they were in the summer.
"I still think we're not out of the danger zone. You know, we're still in a winter season that's going to keep people indoors. There's going to be an opportunity with another holiday season right around us to be vulnerable for this," he said.
Gunasekaran said this summer UIHC had between 20 and 30 COVID-19 patients a day. During the peak in hospitalizations last month, that number was between 100 and 110. Currently, he said they're at 50.
But he said recent numbers indicate Iowa may have "have dodged a big spike" expected to occur in new infections following Thanksgiving weekend, but said the state is "on a plateau, not on a sufficient decline."
"I think that, you know, we continue to be concerned, the hospitalization rate continues to trend down, the infection rate continues to trend down, but it's still not to where it was in Iowa in the summer," he said.
The newest White House Coronavirus Task Force report, released by state health officials on Wednesday, found the state's test positivity rates, new infections and hospitalizations continue to decrease, but still placed Iowa in the red zone for new infections.
It found the state's test positivity rate last week was 17 percent, while it had 512 new infections per 100,000 residents, well-above the national average of 385 new infections per 100,000.
The report found every Iowa county continues to have moderate to high levels of community spread.
Gunasekaran said UIHC anticipates getting around 1,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine next week, pending its emergency authorization approval by the FDA. He said the first doses will be given to frontline workers dealing directly with patients, and the hospital has enough freezer space with the ultracold temperatures required for the Pfizer vaccine for 50,000 doses.
But he said the logistics of how to vaccinate the hospital's 18,000 employees are going to be challenging in the coming months as more vaccines are shipped to the state.
"Once you thaw it, and you start using it, you have very little time, just a few hours, if you will, to get all of that vial used. So when we're looking at the logistics, there's been a lot of planning that has gone into this," he said.
State officials announced last week that Iowa expects to receive 172,000 doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines this month, pending their FDA approval, with the first doses going to frontline health care workers and residents of nursing homes.
At her press conference on Wednesday, Reynolds said she expects to begin vaccinating residents and staff of the state's 432 nursing homes starting Dec. 28. She said the state is holding webinars with local health department, long term care facilities and representatives of drug store chains Walgreens and CVS, which have been contracted to disperse the vaccinations.
But as the state begins its plan to start rolling out the vaccine, Reynolds said she's also secured 104 temporary nurses using CARES Act funding to work in the state's hospitals through Dec. 30.
"It'll help ensure that we're prepared to handle any increase in hospitalizations that could occur during the holidays," she said.