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Governor Allows Elective Surgeries To Resume, Prepares To Reopen Parts Of Iowa

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John Pemble /IPR file
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Gov. Kim Reynolds

As Iowa saw its biggest increase yet in coronavirus cases and deaths, Gov. Kim Reynolds on Friday relaxed restrictions on elective surgeries and talked about reopening the state.

Starting Monday morning, hospitals and surgery centers across the state can resume elective surgeries and procedures if they meet certain requirements, such as having sufficient personal protective equipment and reserving a percentage of intensive care beds for COVID-19 patients.

Elective and nonessential surgeries and procedures have been banned for about a month to preserve PPE to protect health care workers from COVID-19, which has caused hospitals to lose a lot of money. Now Reynolds says health providers can resume these services if they believe they can do it safely.

“Iowa has not experienced the health care surge other states have,” Reynolds said. “And as you’ve seen daily, our ICU beds [and ventilators] are well managed and in good supply.”

According to state data, Iowa ended the week with 534 available ICU beds and 682 available ventilators.

But Iowa still has a PPE shortage order in effect that instructs providers to re-use protective gear and to use expired PPE.

The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics CEO said in a statement they are prepared to resume surgical services. A UnityPoint Health spokesperson said they have started planning to resume procedures but don’t have a definitive timeline.

A statement from MercyOne says they are evaluating the governor’s proclamation.

“Additionally, as we plan to reopen our care locations across Iowa, we are looking at COVID-19 case numbers, access to testing, PPE supply numbers and additional factors,” MercyOne’s statement reads.

Reynolds hints at reopening parts of Iowa

Reynolds also announced farmers markets can open in a limited manner if they take social distancing measures. And she said she will have more details Monday about plans to reopen parts of the state.

But state public health officials said Iowa’s coronavirus cases and deaths have not peaked yet, and will likely peak in two to three weeks. The Iowa Department of Public Health reported 521 additional cases Friday for a total of 4,445 confirmed cases, and 11 more deaths for a total of 107.

Surveillance testing at a Waterloo meatpacking plant is expected to reveal dozens, if not hundreds, more cases next week. The state confirmed a thirteenth long-term care facility outbreak Friday.

The Trump administration’s guidelines for reopening the country say states should see a decline in cases before relaxing mitigation measures. Reynolds was asked about that.

“We’re able, as I’ve indicated, to look at this not only from a state perspective but we can demonstrate exactly what you’re asking for in various counties across the state,” Reynolds said.

Both of the steps Reynolds announced Friday apply to the whole state, even as Reynolds repeated that she is considering county-level data when planning for re-opening.

“We’ll have hotspots that it won’t make any sense right this moment to maybe start to open up…but we’ll have other areas of the state, I think it’s like 15 counties that haven’t had any cases whatsoever,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds has previously said the virus is spreading in the state, and Iowans should assume it’s in their community.

Iowa House Minority Leader Todd Prichard, D-Charles City, said if Reynolds starts re-opening things soon, she should show Iowans the data she’s using to determine that it’s safe to do so.

“We all want to reopen our economy and get life back to normal as quickly as possible,” Prichard said. “However, there is significant risk of more deaths, infections, and a prolonged economic downturn if restrictions are lifted too soon.”

State public health officials said Thursday the model they asked University of Iowa researchers to create predicting the virus’s path has not been completed. It is not clear what the state is currently using to predict a peak occurring in two to three weeks.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter