Liveblog: 179 Cases Of COVID-19 Identified; Gov. Kim Reynolds Orders More Businesses To Close

Iowa businesses, school districts and citizens continue to respond to the escalating COVID-19 pandemic. We'll be posting updates as more news regarding the spread of the virus in Iowa becomes available here for the week of March 22-28.

Do you have questions about how the outbreak is being handled in Iowa? Fill out this form, and we'll try to answer as many of your questions as we can with our reporting. 

Find a map of cases in Iowa by county here. Find more information from the Iowa Department of Public Health here. 

Find a map of cases across the U.S. here. 

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Thursday, March 26

4:35 p.m. – Woodbury county health officials offer drive-thru COVID-19 testing

During a news conference Thursday, Kevin Grieme with Siouxland District Health said only people with COVID-19 symptoms and a doctor’s authorization will be tested at the drive-thru clinic. Once someone is eligible, they’ll get a text message that says where to report to and what time.

Grieme adds people outside of Woodbury county, including in Nebraska and South Dakota, can be tested at the site. But they need to have a primary care physician in one of the six clinic networks that helped put the testing together.

4:18 p.m. – Iowa Dept. of Corrections begins quarantines of people transferred into state prisons

According to guidance released this week, new arrivals to Iowa state prisons will be placed in a designated quarantine unit to be monitored for COVID-19 symptoms for two weeks before being moved into the general population. The Iowa Department of Corrections is also ensuring there’s an adequate supply of hand soap for incarcerated individuals and employees.

However, concerns about the need for social distancing in overcrowded facilities persists. As of Thursday, Iowa’s prisons are 22 percent over capacity.

So far there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in IDOC inmates or staff. The department says several tests have been run so far and all came back negative.

3:39 p.m. – Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds orders more businesses to close

In addition to restaurants and barber shops, Reynolds’ latest action adds retail stores selling everything from books to furniture to clothing. The additional closures are effective at 10 p.m. Thursday and extend to at least April 7.

Reynolds is also suspending dental procedures and elective surgeries for the duration of the crisis except when a person’s health is at risk. She says it will help health officials direct more medical protective equipment to where it’s needed. These additional closures are effective at 5 p.m. Friday, March 27.

3:32 p.m. – Some Iowa contractors use creative ways to continue construction projects

Curbside delivery of materials like paint and lumber is allowing some Iowa contractors to continue working on construction projects despite COVID 19.

Executive Officer of the Home Builders Association of Iowa, Jay Iverson, says most contractors are doing their best to comply with social distancing. In many cases, subcontractors and others are asked to leave the premises while deliveries are being made. There is not much change for electricians and plumbers on smaller projects who can work alone.

2:09 p.m. – Sen. Ernst on the U.S. Senate’s recently passed relief package

The U.S. Senate has approved a $2 trillion relief package to help the country through the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. But Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst says the administration’s hope of getting checks in the mail by early April may prove impossible.

Ernst also says that although she “loves” the president’s optimism about getting the economy up and running again, she wants medical experts to decide when movement restrictions can be eased.

11:54 a.m. – 34 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed

The Iowa Department of Public Health announced Thursday they have confirmed 34 new cases of the novel coronavirus in the state, bringing the total number of cases to 179 in more than 30 counties.

According to IDPH, the locations and age ranges of the 34 individuals include:

  • Appanoose County, 1 elderly adult (81+)
  • Black Hawk County, 1 middle-age adult (18-40 years)
  • Cedar County, 1 middle-age (18-40 years), 1 older (61-80 years), 1 elderly (81+)
  • Clayton County, 1 adult (18-40 years)
  • Des Moines County, 1 adult (18-40 years)
  • Jasper County, 1 elderly (81+)
  • Johnson County, 1 adult (18-40 years), 4 middle-aged adults (41-60 years), 1 older (61-80 years)
  • Linn County, 1 adult (18-40 years), 3 middle-aged adults (41-60 years), 1 older adult (61-80 years)
  • Mahaska County, 1 older adult (61-80 years)
  • Monona County, 1 older adult (61-80 years)
  • Page County, 1 middle-aged adult (41-60 years)
  • Polk County, 1 adult (18-40 years), 2 middle-aged (41-60 years), 1 older (61-80 years)
  • Pottawattamie County, 1 middle-aged adult (41-60 years)
  • Scott County, 1 elderly, 3 middle-aged (41-60 years)
  • Sioux County, 1 older adult (61-80 years)
  • Washington County, 2 older adults (61-80 years)

The state is sharing the number of negative tests conducted at outside labs and is providing information on the conditions of those infected. Find more information here.

10:47 a.m. - More than 41,000 people file for unemployment benefits in Iowa

Iowa Workforce Development says 41,890 people have filed for unemployment in Iowa. 938 of the claims are from people who live out of state but work in Iowa.

Here are the industries in which those workers are employed:

  • Accommodation and Food Services (13,364)
  • Health Care and Social Assistance (4,936)
  • Education Services (2,698)  
  • Other Services (1,999)
  • Retail Trade (1,710)  

IWD wrote in a press release that they have processed all initial unemployment insurance claims and are receiving an unprecedented level of calls.

"We ask everyone to be patient when calling and to consider looking to the website first for answers to their questions. We will continue to provide as much assistance as possible to our fellow Iowans to ensure everyone who is eligible for benefits, receive those benefits in a timely basis,” the department wrote in a press release.

In another release this morning sent by the Iowa Restaurant Association, the IRA reports more than 80 percent have laid off workers as they see sharp drops in revenue.

Wednesday, March 25

4:26 p.m. – Law enforcement officials are releasing people from jail to prevent an outbreak

Law enforcement officials know that cramped conditions in county jails make them prone to a potential outbreak of the new coronavirus. So officials across the state are working together to cut down jail populations.

They’re releasing some people early, and citing as many offenders as possible instead of locking them up.

Officials say they are still detaining people for felonies and violent offenses like domestic abuse. But for now, there’s agreement that the public is safer if more offenders are released, instead of locked up.

4:19 p.m. – Iowa currently has 280 ventilators available

Gov. Kim Reynolds says Iowa has about 280 ventilators available and is trying to get more.

Ventilators are lifesaving machines that help people breathe when their lungs fail. Respiratory failure is a symptom of the most severe cases of COVID-19, and health experts say the U.S. doesn’t have enough ventilators to handle a major outbreak.

Health care providers in the state are also working to convert anesthesia machines into ventilators.

Read more via Katarina Sostaric. 

4:15 p.m. – Some Johnson county officials resist a county shelter in place order

Across the country, governors are ordering all but essential workers to shelter in place. In states where governors haven’t taken the step, some counties have. Without action from Gov. Kim Reynolds, some Iowa counties say they’re seriously considering their own order. But Johnson County remains resistant.

The head of emergency management in Johnson County said Wednesday the county doesn’t need the order yet. Still, public health experts warn saving lives depends on residents drastically limiting their physical contact.

Johnson County continues to have more confirmed cases of COVID-19 than any other county in the state.

4:00 p.m. – Sioux City homeless shelter closes early

A Sioux City homeless shelter closed early for the season, Wednesday because of COVID-19.

The shelter doesn’t have the ability to quarantine people or staff if they become exposed to the new coronavirus. Residents were told this Wednesday morning that they needed to leave.

Typically the temporary shelter is open through April 30.

Read more via Katie Peikes.

3:41 p.m. – Iowa Guard delivers emergency medical gear

Iowa National Guard soldiers from the 11-33rd   transportation company based in Mason City and Iowa City are on the road this week delivering medical personal protective equipment.

Guard spokesperson, Col. Michael Wunn says the group dropped off supplies in ten counties Tuesday and were expected to visit distribution sites in 21 more counties Wednesday.

Read more via Pat Blank.

3:30 p.m. – Phone and cyber criminals use the pandemic to cheat anxious people

It’s a pattern the FBI recognizes. The FBI special agent in charge for the Omaha office, Kristi Johnson, says the tactics are the same. But beyond asking for personal information and contributions to fake charities, some scams are virus-specific.

Johnson reminds people to always verify email and web addresses and never give personal information out over the phone or via email.

2:20 p.m. - State launches new website to provide information about the novel coronavirus

The Iowa Department of Public Health has launched a new website with information regarding the spread of COVID-19 in Iowa.

Iowans can visit coronavirus.iowa.gov for information about the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths related to the virus, in addition to the most current information from the IDPH. 

12:28 p.m. - Drake University keeping students off campus

The state’s largest private university is keeping students off campus for the remainder of the spring semester to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Students at Drake University are remotely continuing classwork through the end of the academic year in mid-May. The spring graduation ceremonies will move to a virtual setting to eliminate large gatherings, and graduates who value all of the pomp and circumstance of the occasion are invited to attend the December graduation event.

The university is also refunding room and board fees on a prorated basis. In a statement, Drake President Marty Martin says, “I know that while we all appreciate the necessity for this, it is nevertheless a sad and unwelcome reality.”

Officials have also postponed the Drake Relays.

12:26 p.m. - Law enforcement releasing detainees early from county jails

In response to the novel coronavirus, some Iowa law enforcement officials are drastically limiting the number of people entering county jails, and releasing detainees early.

Public health experts are urging all residents to practice social distancing. Some officers say the only way to accomplish that behind bars is to release people.

Brad Kunkel is a detective sergeant with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office.

“Safe to say that the entire law enforcement profession is taking steps to reduce the numbers of inmates that are coming to the jail,” he says. “And that takes an effort not only from the jail to have screening methods in place but also just every law enforcement officer on the streets.”

The head of the Iowa State Sheriffs and Deputies Association says officers are trying to cite and release “as many violators as possible” due to the virus.

But officials say they are still detaining offenders for high level felonies, and violent crimes such as domestic abuse.

10:54 a.m. - 21 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed, bringing the total to 145 positive cases

The Iowa Department of Public Health has been notified of 21 additional cases of the novel coronavirus in the state. There are now 145 confirmed cases in Iowa.

According to the IDPH, the locations and age ranges of the new cases include:

  • Allamakee County 1 middle-aged adults (41-60 years)
  • Benton County, 2 middle-aged adults (41-60 years)
  • Hancock County, 1 middle-aged adults (41-60 years)
  • Johnson County, 4 adults (18-40 years), 1 middle-aged adult (41-60 years), 1 older adult (61-80 years)
  • Linn County, 1 middle-aged adult (41-60 years)
  • Muscatine County, 1 adult (18-40 years)
  • Polk County, 3 older adults (61-80 years)
  • Poweshiek County, 2 older adults (61-80 years)
  • Scott County, 2 middle-aged (41-60 years)
  • Washington County, 2 adults (18-40 years)

Find the most updated information from the IDPH on the state’s new COVID-19 information website here.

Tuesday, March 24

8:14 p.m. – Iowa confirms first COVID-19 death

Our hearts are heavy with the first loss of an Iowan to COVID-19. The thoughts and prayers of our state are with the family during this difficult time. - Gov. Kim Reynolds

The state reported Iowa's first confirmed death associated with the new coronavirus Tuesday evening.

The person was between the ages of 61 and 80, and lived in Dubuque County. State officials did not release any other details about the individual.

"Our hearts are heavy with the first loss of an Iowan to COVID-19," Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a statement. "The thoughts and prayers of our state are with the family during this difficult time." 

4:51 p.m. – COVID-19 hospitalizations increase

Seventeen Iowans are hospitalized as of Tuesday afternoon with COVID-19. That’s up from seven hospitalizations on Monday. One person has been discharged. This includes nine Iowans who were in the hospital prior to being tested for the new coronavirus.

Gov. Kim Reynolds says it’s still a relatively small number of people in the hospital and the big jump in numbers can partly be attributed to who the state hygienic lab is prioritizing for COVID-19 testing.

The Iowa Department of Public Health says it’s using the percentage of COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization as one of their data points for recommending actions to the governor.

3:31 p.m. – Home remodel inspections delayed

Concerns about COVID-19 are limiting inspections on completed remodeling projects in some parts of the state, which is causing headaches for people who want to go to their house and shelter in place.

Prior to the state disaster declaration, demand for remodeling projects was booming. Many contractors were scheduling work 6 months in advance. 

2:36 p.m. – Schools are sharing learning resources for families to use at home

Schools around the state are sharing more learning resources for families to use at home while isolating themselves, including apps and websites for different ages and subjects. The goal is to keep children engaged, but parents should not feel like they have to turn their homes into classrooms.

Many schools are also trying to help students with no Internet at home. In Iowa City families can request a connection to be paid for by the district.

2:32 p.m. - University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics running its own COVID-19 tests

The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics now has the ability to run its own COVID-19 tests in-house. Hospital officials say the capabilities are still limited and depend on supplies of key products like testing swabs.

As of now, testing will be limited to those who have had a video visit with the hospital and have been directed to a specific clinic for testing, or those who are inpatients.

Screenings will not be available to the general public, but officials say the step expands statewide capacity, which until now relied on the State Hygienic Lab and some private labs.

Read more via IPR's Kate Payne. 

11:43 a.m. – Cedar Rapids not-for-profit expands teletherapy

Tanager Place, a children’s mental health care not-for-profit based in Cedar Rapids, is offering teletherapy for Iowans of all ages.

"We know people of all ages are feeling the pressure of this new environment, and that our organization has the ability to step up and help," said Tonya Hotchkin, vice president of clinical services in an email. 

The center is accepting new clients of all ages and is offering individual, family and group therapy as well as mental health assessments via teletherapy. Get in touch with Tanager Place outpatient services by emailing theraphyreferral@tanagerplace.org or by calling (319) 286-4545.

11:03 a.m. - 124 total positive cases of COVID-19 identified in Iowa

The Iowa Department of Public Health has been notified of 19 additional positive cases of Iowans with COVID-19, bringing the total to 124 positive cases. To date, there have been 2,315 negative tests conducted by the State Hygienic Lab and other labs. 

Monday, March 23

5:01 p.m. – Absentee voting period extended

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate is extending the absentee voting period to 40 days for people who want to vote by mail in the June 2 primary. His office is encouraging people to vote this way to reduce the risk of spreading or contracting COVID-19.

People can ask their county auditor for an absentee ballot. The voting period for mailed ballots will start April 23.

4:38 p.m. – Cedar Rapids suspends its bus service

The state’s second-largest city suspend its fixed-route bus service beginning this Wednesday, March 25 and lasting until April 13. City officials say the step comes at a critical moment and is necessary to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Those who need a ride to a health care appointment can call the Linn County LIFTS service. Employees of essential services like hospitals and grocery stores can request a free ride to work through the non-profit Neighborhood Transportation Service.

3:36 p.m. Gov. Reynolds announces COVID-19 small business relief program

The state is planning to use some of the governor’s new spending authority for grants for businesses with two to 25 employees that have been disrupted by efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19. 

The program offers $5,000 to $25,000 in grant money. To be eligible, a business must be experiencing disruption due to the pandemic and have employed between two to 25 people prior to March 17.  

“This is a stopgap to basically keep doors open, because the first thing we’re dealing with is keeping as many people as employed as possible. Second is liquidity, and so this is a stopgap until the resources from the federal government begin to flow,” said Debbie Durham, who is director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority, at the governor’s 2:30 p.m. press conference Monday.

IPR's Katarina Sostaric has more on this story.

12:00 p.m. Iowa’s regent universities establish student emergency assistance funds

Iowa State University, the University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa have launched funds to help students with urgent needs who need help with the transition of moving home to learn and live off campus for the duration of the spring semester.

Last week, all three state universities announced they would be canceling spring commencement and asking students to finish their coursework for the 2019-2020 school year online.

10: 56 a.m. - New COVID-19 cases identified 

The Iowa Department of Public Health has identified 15 more positive cases of COVID-19 in Iowa, bringing the total 105 positive cases. According to IDPH, the locations and age ranges of the 15 individuals include:

  • Allamakee County, 1 adult (18-40 years)
  • Dubuque County, 1 adult (18-40 years), 1 older adult (61-80 years)
  • Hancock County, 2 older adults (61-80 years)
  • Johnson County, 1 middle-aged adult (41-60 years), 2 older adults (61-80 years)
  • Linn County, 1 adult (18-40 years), 1 middle-aged adult (41-60 years)
  • Muscatine County, 1 middle-aged adult (41-60 years)
  • Polk County, 1 adult (18-40 years),  1 middle-aged adult (41-60 years)
  • Wapello County, 1 older adult (61-80 years)
  • Woodbury County, 1 middle-aged adult (41-60 years)

Sunday, March 22

4:01 p.m. - Gov. Reynolds announces additional closures

Governor Kim Reynolds has ordered the closure of hair and nail salons, barbershops, tattoo parlors and swimming pools. The mandatory closures were effective at 10 p.m. and also apply to spas, tanning facilities and massage therapy establishments. These additional closures are effective through March 31. 

11:21 a.m. - 22 additional COVID-19 cases announced

The Iowa Department of Public Health has been notified of 22 additional COVID-19 cases in Iowa. That brings the total number of cases to 90 in the state - 45 of which were identified this weekend.

Today's cases were identified as residents of Cerro Gordo (2), Dallas (1), Dubuque (2), Harrison (2), Johnson (5), Kossuth (1), Linn (1), Poweshiek (1), Scott (1), Sioux (1), Tama (3) Washington (1), and Woodbury (1) counties. 

Gov. Kim Reynolds will hold a press conference at 2:30 p.m. It will be livestreamed through Iowa Public Radio's website.

 9:25 a.m. - University of Iowa Health Care urgently requests protective face shields

University of Iowa Health is urgently requesting Iowa businesses and individuals to donate new or used protective face shields to its hospital.

Hospitals officials say they currently have a supply for employees interacting with staff who work with patients or do screenings, but the additional masks would allow all employees who interact with patients, visitors and co-workers to wear one. 

To donate protective face shields or other personal protective gear, visit the hospital's website, uihc.org/kind-donations, or call concierge services at (319) 356-1900 or (319) 678-5500.