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Reynolds Says She Is 'Shifting Focus' Of Iowa's Coronavirus Response

kim reynolds
Olivia Sun
The Des Moines Register via AP, pool
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds holds a news conference regarding COVID-19 at the State Emergency Operations Center in Johnston, Iowa, Monday, April 6.

Gov. Kim Reynolds said Thursday she is shifting the focus of Iowa’s coronavirus response as confirmed cases and deaths continue to increase across the state.

She said this one day after she met with President Donald Trump and other top officials at the White House, where Vice President Mike Pence said Iowa has been “a success story” and is “leading the pack” in its efforts to mitigate COVID-19 impacts and keep food production going.

“Since we kind of really accomplished what we were trying to do to make sure that we had the health care resources available, we now have shifted our focus from mitigation of resources to managing and containing virus activity as we begin to open Iowa back up,” Reynolds said.  

Seventy-nine percent of the state’s intensive care beds and 74 percent of ventilators are available, which Reynolds said indicates coronavirus has not overwhelmed Iowa’s health care system.

Reynolds said now, Iowa’s “aggressive” testing and contact tracing can be used to contain virus activity as the state reopens.

But reviews of testing and contact tracing capacity by NPR show that Iowa has not met the thresholds recommended by health experts to safely relax social distancing measures.

Iowa Public Radio asked Reynolds how she squares that and the emerging hotspots in Iowa with her statements.

“Iowans can be proud of what we’re doing,” Reynolds responded. “You should be proud of what we’re doing. We are leading. And we’re leading by example and we’re going to continue to lead.”

Reynolds added that the state has ramped up testing. Iowa’s coronavirus testing has increased over time, but the Test Iowa initiative has not reached its goal of 3,000 tests per day.

The White House guidelines for reopening say a state should see a downward trajectory in cases for 14 days before starting to reopen. Iowa has not met that target, and parts of the state were allowed to start to reopen May 1.

Dr. Megan Srinivas, an infectious disease doctor in Fort Dodge, said the state has not hit its coronavirus peak. And she said hospital capacity is about more than ICU beds and ventilators.

“We have a PPE shortage here in Iowa that’s already present before we even hit our peak,” Dr. Srinivas said. “And then also a health care workforce that’s specially trained to deal with this—which includes critical care nurses, respiratory therapists, critical care and infectious disease physicians—we don’t have enough of that workforce that we will need when we hit the peak. We don’t even have enough of that workforce right now.”

She said some areas of the state have already seen their health care systems overburdened in different ways. A Sioux City hospital has had to move patients to other hospitals, even in other states, to open up ICU beds.

Dr. Srinivas also said Iowa is behind on its contact tracing capacity, even as the state and counties add and train more staff.

“Before we lift any of these restrictions we really need to have it not just being created, but in place and functioning properly so that way we can say we are able to do targeted interventions as new cases pop up,” Dr. Srinivas said.