In many Iowa counties, businesses and organizations are now deciding when and how to reopen. Summer festivals and events organizations are making decisions around whether or how they will operate, and Gov. Kim Reynolds has announced that she is "shifting focus" of Iowa's coronavirus response.
However, reviews of testing and contact tracing capacity by NPR show that Iowa has not met the thresholds recommended by health experts to safely relax restrictions aimed at reducing the spread of the coronavirus.
Follow the latest Iowa coronavirus news here, where we're posting news updates from Gov. Kim Reynolds, other state agencies, counties and businesses for the week of May 10-May 16.
Get caught up on the most important headlines from from May 3-9 here.
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- Find more information from the Iowa Department of Public Health here.
- Find a map of cases across the U.S. here.
4:04 p.m. - Reports prepared for the state show health experts believed state had not yet reached peak of epidemic
Newly released reports prepared for the state show University of Iowa health experts expected coronavirus to keep spreading even before the state started reopening May 1.
One of the reports—first requested by the Des Moines Register and dated May 4 —says social distancing measures in Iowa haven’t been enough to prevent continued community spread.
The group of public health experts says reopening could lead to an increase in virus transmission, but they don’t expect to see the full effects of that for several weeks. In the days after this report was completed, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced two more rounds of reopening various businesses.
In a second document dated April 27, health experts write they believed the state had not reached the peak of its epidemic, and that reopening before the peak could cause a rapid rise in cases.
Asked about the documents before the contents were publicly known, Reynolds said she’s looking at a lot of different data. She noted that hospitalizations appear to be stabilizing and the percentage of Iowans testing positive has been decreasing.
3:46 p.m. – Woodbury County jail reduces inmate population
Despite the rise in COVID-19 cases in northwest Iowa’s Woodbury County, the new coronavirus has not infected any inmates in the county jail. The sheriff department’s chief deputy says they reduced the jail population as a precaution.
Chief Deputy Tony Wingert said during a news conference Friday they’ve been keeping the jail population around 150 inmates in a 234-bed facility. “What that means is it gives us room, as new people come in, to segregate them from the existing population and maybe we can catch an illness before it gets into the general population."
Wingert said the jail averaged around 220 to 230 inmates each day in January and February. He says for some non-violent offenses - like operating while intoxicated - a person may have been told that their sentence was suspended and they’ll serve their time at a later date.
3:21 p.m. – Long term care facilities face staffing and testing shortages
As the coronavirus continues to spread through Iowa’s long term care facilities, some say they’re struggling to get the testing and staffing they need.
At Friendship Village in Waterloo, as of Friday, 50 staff and residents have tested positive. Seven residents have died.
Due to a shortage in supplies, they’ve so far only been able to test nursing home staff. More testing is planned for assisted living staff, who tend to residents who don’t need as much care. Sherry Turner is executive director of Friendship Village. “If we have employees in other areas outside of that that desire testing, we recommend that they contact their doctor, we recommend that they use testing sites available in our community.”
For the first time in 20 years, the company says it’s turning to temporary staffing agencies to fill its shifts.
1:23 p.m. – Gov. Reynolds to continue “modified quarantine” through next Wednesday
As more businesses are allowed to open in Iowa Friday, Gov. Kim Reynolds says her “modified quarantine” will continue through next Wednesday.
Reynolds says she’s getting tested for coronavirus each day with the “Abbott ID Now” machine and has tested negative. She says she’s aware of recent reports that the machine may be a lot less accurate than other tests. “But I’m also in addition to that as well as getting tested I’m exhibiting no symptoms, I continue to social distance, I continue to wear a mask when I’m not doing a press conference and continue two work from home when I can.”
Last week she visited the White House and hosted Vice President Pence in Iowa. One of the vice president’s staffers tested positive for COVID-19, so Reynolds on Monday announced she was in a partial quarantine.
1:12 p.m. – Three local Iowa newspapers are folding, due to the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus
The Daily Iowegian in Centerville, the Pella Chronicle and the Knoxville Journal Express had each been publishing for more than 130 years.
Starting next week, the papers will begin merging with others in central and southern Iowa: the Ottumwa Courier and the Oskaloosa Herald.
In a written statement, the papers’ publisher said the virus was a “gut punch”, and that local advertising revenue has nearly dried up due to the economic downturn.
The papers are all owned by Alabama-based company CNHI.
9:12 a.m. – Casinos look ahead to reopening
Iowa restaurants, hair salons and tattoo parlors to are allowed to begin the reopening process Friday thanks to an order from Gov. Reynolds. Bars and casinos though are to remain closed until further notice.
Brian Ohorilko is the Administrator for the Iowa Racing and Gaming commission. He says when casinos are allowed to operate, it will be a thoughtful, slow process. “It’s not just a situation where, when they can open, that we’ll see the doors spring open and lots of people come in and we’re back to how things used to be. That will certainly not be the case.”
Ohorilko says he expects there will be limits on how many people will be allowed at each property. He also says patrons may not be able to touch the cards at table games as often as they used to and buffets are not likely to be available for some time.
12:23 p.m. – 374 new COVID-19 cases Friday, 18 more deaths
The Iowa Department of Public Health reported 374 additional COVID-19 cases Friday for a total of 14,049 confirmed cases.
Eighteen more deaths were also reported. A total of 336 Iowans are confirmed to have died of the coronavirus.
More than 6,500 Iowans have recovered, according to the state, and 387 Iowans were hospitalized.
11:00 a.m. - Gov. Reynolds hosts daily press conference
5:56 a.m. – Regents universities eliminating funding for Iowa Public Radio
Iowa’s regents universities are scrambling to make up for the economic damage done so far by the COVID-19 pandemic. One of their proposed cuts is eliminating funding for Iowa Public Radio. IPR Executive Director Myrna Johnson wrote in a note to staff that this year, that funding was about $875,000, or about 10 percent of IPR’s budget.
Iowa’s three public universities recently told the Board of Regents they and the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics are dealing with $263 million in lost revenue and new expenses. The three campuses have already said they will not raise tuition this fall to help close that gap.
5:55 p.m. – Those who violate reopening guidelines could face a misdemeanor
As more restrictions are lifted in Iowa Friday, more business owners and patrons can decide how or if they want to reengage in the economy. But public officials are urging them to follow state guidelines, or potentially face legal repercussions.
As of 5 a.m. on Friday, restaurants and gyms in Iowa’s hardest-hit counties can choose to reopen, along with salons, barbershops and tattoo parlors statewide. But there are limits. Most businesses should only be filled to half their legal occupancy, and patrons should keep their distance.
Those who flout the guidelines could face a misdemeanor. Although Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson says he hopes that won’t be necessary. “We want to work cooperatively with these businesses. We recognize that there are businesses hanging on by a string right now. And so the importance for us is try and help them do the right thing in the right way.”
Public health experts are still urging Iowans to limit their exposure as much as possible. Even some rural areas have seen marked increases in their cases as restrictions have been lifted.
5:12 p.m. – County public health officials waiting on results from Test Iowa site
Black Hawk County public health officials are still waiting for results from the Test Iowa site in Waterloo, more than two weeks after the location opened. Elsewhere in the state there have been reports of delays, damaged tests or inconclusive results from the $26 million Test Iowa program.
Public Health Director Nafissa Cisse Egbuonye said Thursday that while she hasn’t heard of issues with the testing in Black Hawk County, the results haven’t been reported to her yet. “We have not received any results, but we also haven’t heard that there are some issues with our testing for Black Hawk County.”
Gov. Kim Reynolds said Thursday that some issues are expected with any program of this kind. She is not planning to publish Test Iowa results separately from the state’s other results, despite persistent questions about the efficacy of the program.
4:48 p.m. – Polk County asks residents to wear a mask in public settings
As more businesses reopen across the state Friday, leaders in Polk County are asking residents to wear a mask anytime they’re out in public to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
That’s a stronger recommendation than from the Iowa Department of Public Health which suggests wearing a mask when you can’t keep distance from others.
Matt McCoy is chair of the county board. “Polk County cases continue to rise and it’s critical to continue practicing these precautions.”
Polk County has the most confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state. The county health department says a recent increase in cases is tied to community spread and outbreaks at long-term care and manufacturing facilities.
1:29 p.m. – State Hygienic Lab has validated Test Iowa’s equipment
At a press conference Thursday, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced the State Hygienic Lab has validated Test Iowa’s equipment. This comes three weeks after the state announced it was launching the initiative.
Reynolds said the State Hygienic Lab -- which conducted the validation process -- said results indicated a 95 percent accuracy rate for positive tests and a 99.7 percent accuracy rate for negative tests.
Prior to Test Iowa’s validation, the State Hygienic Lab was using its own equipment. Reynolds said the validation will increase the state’s testing capabilities. "We expect more tests will be processed more quickly and your results will be delivered on a timely basis."
Reynolds said the state will eventually be able to run 5,000 COVID-19 tests a day. 3,000 of those are expected from Test Iowa.
So far, 4,300 Iowans have been tested through the program, which has eight drive-through sites across the state.
11:00 a.m. - Gov. Reynolds hosts press conference
10:39 a.m. – 386 new, confirmed coronavirus cases, 12 new deaths reported Thursday
Officials are reporting 386 new confirmed COVID-19 cases in Iowa, bringing the state’s total to 13,675 cases.
Additionally, 12 more Iowans have died from the virus. The state has had 318 COVID-19 related deaths so far. 405 Iowans are hospitalized with the virus with 134 of those in intensive care units.
More than 6,231 Iowans have recovered.
9:33 a.m. – 16,735 more workers filed new unemployment claims last week
Iowa Workforce Development reports 16,735 more workers filed new unemployment claims last week, including people who work in Iowa but live outside the state.
Manufacturing workers filed the largest number of claims, followed by people in the self-employed category.
Initial claims have declined over the last two weeks, but the amount of people who continue to receive unemployment assistance in Iowa is still climbing. Last week that number passed 190,000.
5:46 p.m. – State delay in reporting hundreds of COVID-19 cases due to lab processing
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts Wednesday linked the state’s delay in reporting hundreds of COVID-19 cases to Iowa to processing done by an out-of-state lab.
Ricketts said during a news conference that a company in Dakota City paid for the testing and sent it out-of-state to be processed. “So we had to set up a protocol to be able to take that data and integrate it into our data stream here in Nebraska that then could be shared, not only with our public health officials, but the ones in Iowa.”
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said Tuesday that more than 300 of the state’s new positive cases were Iowans who had been tested for COVID-19 in Nebraska from April 28 to April 30. The cases are linked to a processing plant, which neither governor named. Ricketts said his state got a “partial download” of testing data from the lab on May 4, and verified all the data on May 8. He said it was available to be shared with Iowa that day, but wasn’t sent to the state until Monday.
4:31 p.m. – Corn and soybean prices likely to drop
At the start of 2020, the agricultural economy was poised for a good year. Then came COVID-19 and like almost every other sector, it tanked. But Iowa State University economist Chad Hart says that solid footing is still the foundation for an outlook that is not all doom and gloom.
He says the World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates released this week suggest the growing season and 2020 harvest may be tough, but not devastating. Higher yields will offset lower prices. And Hart says COVID recovery should bring about some of the relief from trade tensions that economists anticipated. “They’re looking for that strength to still be there, to return, as we reopen the economy, as we get the global economy moving along.”
Still, farmers may be looking at some alternative crops for 2021, especially if this year brings them any more unwelcome hurdles in corn and soybeans.
3:41 p.m. - Republican leaders of the Iowa Legislature say the legislative session will resume June 3
This is the third time top lawmakers have decided to delay their return to the statehouse since they put the session on hold in mid-March to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
News releases from House and Senate Republican leaders say the public is encouraged to avoid the Capitol especially if they’re older or have a preexisting condition that could leave them more vulnerable to severe illness.
The leaders announced plans to livestream all committee meetings in addition to full House and Senate debate. They’re encouraging the public to submit comments about proposed laws on the legislature’s website instead of attending subcommittee meetings.
A spokesperson for House Republicans says they have not determined if subcommittee meetings will be livestreamed.
Staff and the public will be required to undergo a health screening before entering the Capitol building. Social distancing and face masks are also recommended.
Top lawmakers are scheduled to vote Thursday afternoon to make the June 3 return date official.
3:27 p.m. – Dentists struggle to reopen
As Gov. Reynolds reopens parts of the state’s economy, she’s touting Iowa’s resources for coronavirus testing. But among those still struggling to get tested are dentists, who were able to start reopening their practices as of last week.
Ann Connors employs 10 people at her private practice in Iowa City, and she wants all of them to be tested before reopening. She says she’s been frustrated by the lack of resources from state agencies. “I certainly was very surprised by the…lack of information to give not just to the general public, but a healthcare professional who…who has been told, yes, go ahead, you can open up.”
1:02 p.m. – Congolese community member and Tyson employee dies of COVID-19
A Congolese employee of the Tyson pork plant in Waterloo has died of COVID-19. The death of Axel Kabeya was first reported by the Congolese newspaper GrandJournalcd.net, which described him as one of the best known members of the Congolese community living in Iowa.
In recent years, many immigrants and refugees from Congo have settled in the state, including in Black Hawk and Linn Counties, where they’ve put down roots, joined local churches and found steady work at the area’s manufacturing facilities and meat processing plants.
Tyson employees and refugee advocates have warned that breakdowns in communication from plant leadership and language barriers have made it difficult for workers to gauge the risk of exposure to COVID-19 at the plant.
Kabeya is being mourned by other members of the Congolese community on social media, and is survived by a wife and children.
At least three other employees of the Waterloo Tyson facility have died, including another father of three children. According to county public health officials, as of last week, 1,031 workers at the plant had tested positive for the coronavirus.
12:31 p.m. Gov. Reynolds lifts some restrictions on business closures
Gov. Kim Reynolds is lifting more coronavirus restrictions on Iowa businesses. On Friday morning barber shops, salons and tattoo parlors can open statewide for the first time since March 22nd.
Restaurants that remained closed in 22 counties can also reopen to a limited number of customers.
That includes Polk and Woodbury counties, which Reynolds named as recent hot spots for the virus.
“Even though hospitalizations have increased recently in a few communities, resources remain stable, and Iowans are getting the care that they need,” Reynolds said.
Bars, casinos and theaters across the state will remain closed.
Reynolds says Iowans over 65-years-old, or with chronic health conditions, should continue to stay home as much as possible because they run a higher risk of severe illness with COVID-19.
12:28 p.m. – IDPH reports 377 new, confirmed cases of COVID-19, 17 more deaths
The Iowa Department of Public Health reported 377 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, giving the state a total of 13,289 positive tests. Health officials say nearly 4,500 individuals were tested which is the largest number in one day so far.
Seventeen more Iowans have died of the coronavirus, which puts the state at 306 deaths in the pandemic, and 388 people are currently hospitalized with the virus.
And the state says another meat processing plant is going through an outbreak of the virus, the Upper Iowa Beef plant in Lime Springs.
11:00 a.m. - Gov. Reynolds hosts press conference
4:51 p.m. – Expiration of moratorium on evictions likely to disproportionally affect black residents
If Gov. Kim Reynolds allows a moratorium on evictions to expire later this month, African Americans are more likely than others to have a hard time catching up with rent payments.
That was one issue brought up Tuesday on a virtual forum about the pandemic’s impact on people of color.
Eric Burmeister, executive director of the Polk County Housing Trust Fund, says black residents of the county are twice as likely to be renters. They’re also more likely to struggle to afford rent each month. “The black community disproportionately is out over its skis and used whatever safety net it had to remain housed.”
Reynolds suspended evictions through May 27. The CARES Act also bans evictions for people who receive federal financing or rental assistance. Those rules are in place until July 25.
4:05 p.m. - A Sioux City pork processing plant reports nearly 60 of its employees have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Monday
Several have recovered.
In a statement, Seaboard Triumph Foods says 7 of its 59 employees who have tested positive for the respiratory disease have recovered. They were released from public health monitoring and have been given the OK by the company to return to work.
Seaboard Triumph employs around 2,400 people. The company says when one of its employees has COVID-19, they’re given paid leave and health benefits. This includes two weeks of their typical wages.
The plant has also taken various protective protocols in place: They’ve increased cleaning. Workers must wear a face mask and shield. And the company has modified its line speeds to give employees more space between each other.
More than 100 Seaboard Triumph employees have tested negative for COVID-19.
1:55 p.m. – Gov. Kim Reynolds delays her announcement of further plans to reopen Iowa
Reynolds has delayed her announcement of further plans to reopen Iowa, saying she’s still reviewing some information with her team. Monday, Reynolds said she would lay out her plan for reopening Tuesday. Now she says it’ll be Wednesday. The current coronavirus-related restrictions on restaurants, gyms and other businesses are in effect through Friday.
Reynolds was asked if there’s anything specific holding her back from announcing her plan. “No well they don’t really expire until the 15th, so we had some time, so I want to continue to look at the data and work with the department of public health and our team.”
Reynolds says she will base her upcoming decisions on the availability of health care resources such as ventilators and ICU beds.
1:38 p.m. – Gov. Kim Reynolds says a large portion of the new COVID-19 cases reported Tuesday are related to a delay in reporting
Reynolds said during a news conference that 319 of the 539 new positive cases are Iowans who were tested for COVID-19 in Nebraska in the end of April. The new cases are linked to a processing plant.
They were notified of the results shortly after being tested, but the reporting back to the state of Iowa was delayed.
Reynolds didn’t say why the test results weren’t reported back to Iowa for about two weeks. Public Health Deputy Director Sarah Reisetter says she can’t speak to why the reporting was delayed from Nebraska. Most of the 319 new cases are in northwest Iowa’s Woodbury County. Neither county health officials nor the state named the Nebraska business tied to the spike.
11:30 a.m. - Gov. Reynolds hosts press conference
11:28 a.m. – 18 deaths, 539 new cases announced
The Iowa Department of Public Health reported 539 additional COVID-19 cases Tuesday for a total of 12,912 confirmed cases. Gov. Kim Reynolds says 319 of those cases are from tests conducted in late April in connection to a meatpacking plant in Nebraska.
Eighteen more deaths were reported, the second-highest single-day increase in the state. A total of 289 Iowans are confirmed to have died of the coronavirus.
The number of Iowans hospitalized stands at 385, the lowest number in 10 days. More than 5,600 Iowans have recovered, according to the state.
The state is reporting 32 long-term care facility outbreaks.
5:09 p.m. – In one of the state’s hardest-hit counties, officials say the coronavirus is still reaching vulnerable Iowans
As Gov. Kim Reynolds reopens parts of the economy, she’s also asking at-risk Iowans to consider staying in self-isolation. But in one of the state’s hardest-hit counties, officials say the coronavirus is still reaching vulnerable Iowans despite their best efforts. As of Monday, Black Hawk County had outbreaks in three long-term care facilities, with a total of 1,761 confirmed cases and 29 residents dead.
Sheriff Tony Thompson says the virus is so widespread in his county, it’s reaching vulnerable residents in nursing homes who have “social distanced from the very beginning.”
“We have a governor who continues to open up the state. And believe me, I get it. I understand the temptation, and I respect the need to give the economy boost,” Thompson said. “Perhaps I’m too close to those positive cases and perhaps I’m too close to those deaths.”
As more county residents die of COVID-19, Thompson is pointing to the operations of Tyson Fresh Meats. An outbreak at the pork plant in Waterloo sent the county’s cases surging in recent weeks. Gov. Reynolds resisted calls to shut down the facility, which the company ultimately idled for two weeks in part due to worker absenteeism.
Now Thompson is pointing to what he calls the “failures” of Tyson.
“It breaks my heart and it infuriates me to know that as we fall back to deal with the fallout of the failures of corporate greed and governmental ignorance, that more and more citizens fall victim to this virus as a result,” he said.
Black Hawk County public health officials say overall case numbers are stabilizing, but they expect the death rate to increase more quickly as the virus continues to spread in nursing homes.
4:00 p.m. – State has yet to rely on Test Iowa lab equipment
More than two weeks into testing for coronavirus through the Test Iowa initiative, the state isn’t relying on new equipment from that program to report out test results.
Six drive-thru sites are open through Test Iowa with a seventh planned, but the State Hygienic Lab hasn’t validated the equipment that’s supposed to boost the state’s capacity for processing those tests.
It’s not clear if Iowa’s lab has encountered any problems with the equipment included in the state’s $26 million contract with Utah-based tech companies.
Matt Binnicker, director of clinical virology at the Mayo Clinic, says validating new tests means making sure they’re accurate and precise. “To do that we take samples that have tested positive for COVID-19 by another emergency use authorized test, and we can demonstrate that the new test also generates the same results.”
He says if the results don’t match up, that could delay implementation and the lab would likely ask the manufacturer, in this case Co-Diagnostics, to help make adjustments.
1:41 p.m. – Gov. Kim Reynolds to follow modified quarantine plan
Reynolds said at a press conference Monday that she will follow a modified quarantine plan after a member of Vice President Mike Pence’s staff tested positive for COVID-19.
Reynolds and state medical director Caitlin Pedati visited the White House last week for a meeting with Vice President Pence and President Trump.
Shortly after, one of Pence’s staffers tested positive for the virus.
Reynolds said she had no direct contact with the staffer, but will follow a plan similar to the one of Dr. Anthony Fauci and other White House administrators. This includes wearing a mask when she does come into contact with others. “I spoke with my team over the weekend and most will be working from home during this time, especially if they or a family member have health conditions that puts them at a higher risk.”
Gov. Reynolds said she will also be tested for the virus daily. She said her test on Monday was negative.
1:13 p.m. - Gov. Kim Reynolds will work to distribute Remdesivir
Reynolds said at a press conference Monday that she’s working to distribute the drug Remdesivir across the state after receiving it from the federal government over the weekend.
Reynolds said she’s working with the state public health department, doctors and pharmacists on how and where to distribute the drug -- which has shown promise in treating COVID-19. “It's based on who benefits the most from the drug and we want to make sure that when we're administrating, administering it, that the physician has been connected with someone that has had experience with the drug.”
The federal department of Health and Human Services announced this weekend was shipping the drug to six states for hospitalized patients. Iowa received 400 vials of the drug.
12:01 p.m. – Iowa officials are reporting 414 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the state’s total to 12,373 confirmed cases.
Six more Iowans have died from the virus. This means so far 271 people in the state have died from COVID-19 related complications.
More than 77,000 Iowans have been tested for the virus so far, and more than 5,200 have recovered.
32 of the state’s long term care facilities are reported to have outbreaks.
11:00 a.m. - Gov. Reynolds hosts press conference
7:26 p.m. - The Iowa Department of Public Health reported 288 more confirmed cases of COVID-19 Sunday
This brings the total of positive tests to 11,959.
Another 13 Iowans have died of the illness, bringing the total deaths in the state to 265. 413 people are currently hospitalized with the coronavirus.
Another long-term care facility to show an outbreak of the virus is NewAldaya Lifescapes in Cedar Falls, where a staff member had tested positive on April 23. Thirty long-term care centers across the state have outbreaks, which means at least three residents tested positive for the virus.
Notable headlines from May 3 - 9:
- As of May 9, there are a total of 11,671 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Iowa
- As of May 9, there have been 252 deaths due to COVID-19 in Iowa
- The Tyson meat packing plant in Waterloo reopened May 7, the same day they announced a total of 1,031 workers identified as having COVID-19
- A Sioux City hospital moved four patients to other hospitals in the region to expand the number of intensive care unit beds available for new patients
- Gov. Kim Reynolds shifts the focus of Iowa's coronavirus response to "aggressive" testing and contact tracing
- The number of unemployed Iowans receiving ongoing assistance surpassed 180,000
- The Tyson meat packing plant in Dakota City, Nebraska resumed limited operations May 7
- Campgrounds, drive-in movie theaters, tanning facilities and medical spas were allowed to reopen in certain parts of the state on May 8
- The Iowa Department of Education announced it would share more than $71 million in federal relief funds with public school districts
- The Des Moines Symphony announced that it's postponing its summer concerts