Liveblog: New Drive-Thru Testing To Open In Crawford County Announced Friday

Iowa schools are closed for the rest of the school year, and many businesses remain closed, although the state did 'reopen' 77 Iowa counties on May 1. We'll be posting updates from Gov. Kim Reynolds and the Iowa Department of Public Health and other news as it becomes available here for the week of May 3-May 9.

Get caught up on the most important headlines from from April 26-May 2 here.  

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Saturday, May 9

5:46 p.m. - The Iowa Department of Public Health reported 214 more confirmed cases of COVID-19 Saturday

New cases: 214 Confirmed cases: 11,671 Deaths: 252

This brings the total of confirmed cases to 11,671.

Nine more deaths were also reported bringing the number of Iowans who have died from the coronavirus to 252.

402 Iowans are currently hospitalized with the virus, marking two consecutive days of declining hospitalizations. According to state health officials, more than 5,000 people who tested positive for COVID-19 have recovered.

Friday, May 8

5:18 p.m. - Vice President Mike Pence says the nation’s food supply has remained strong during the COVID-19 pandemic 

Pence joined HyVee’s CEO, workers, and other dignitaries at a food supply forum in West Des Moines Friday afternoon.  Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told the gathering a lot of Americans probably didn’t think much about the food supply chain before this spring. “We’ve been pretty spoiled in having the most efficient, the most effective, the least cost food, available in so many choices, of any country in the developed world. Frankly, we’ve taken that for granted.”

 

Some food companies have warned of shortages after processing plants had to shut down temporarily in Iowa and several other states.  That’s because hundreds of workers tested positive for COVID-19.  Several of the plants in Iowa reopened this week, but today the United Food and Commercial Workers Union said not enough has been done to make sure workers can stay safe from the coronavirus.

 

4:48 p.m. - New drive-thru Test Iowa site to open in Crawford County

 

A Test Iowa site will open in western Iowa’s Crawford County Saturday. It’s the fifth of these drive-thru testing sites to open under the state’s testing initiative.

 

The county of more than 17,000 has seen a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases, and is now at approximately 150. Ten days ago, the county had 22 cases.

 

Denison Mayor Pam Soseman says this new site is a step in the right direction. But she worries a lot of people won’t be able to access it because of a language barrier. Students in the local school district speak more than 20 languages. Soseman says the community is very diverse. "Many of those people do not have access to computers and the Test Iowa website is only available in two languages, so I don’t know that we would be well covered with that and that is a concern of mine."

 

Soseman says several weeks ago she asked the city’s two meatpacking plants to request rapid testing from the state. Only one responded to her. Denison has Smithfield Foods and Quality Food Processors.

 

3:38 p.m. - Construction projects move quickly with lack of traffic and pedestrians 

 

A lack of pedestrians and reduced vehicle traffic is allowing construction projects in several downtown areas around the state to move more quickly.

 

In Iowa City, Public Works Director Ron Knoche says his crews are able to tackle a maintenance project on one of the few river bridges in the district. "We were able to move forward with that project a little sooner and it was a full closure of Burlington Street, so it was something that we were dreading but because of campus being cancelled and the local school districts being closed, it really opened that window up for us to be able to do that project."

 

Knoche says his job these days is quote “100 percent” easier. He says the street will open to limited traffic next Friday. 

 

In Cedar Falls, workers are using the lack of pedestrians to make substantial progress on a project to replace decades-old bricks in front of businesses in the area known as the Parkade.

 

2:39 p.m. - Experts from the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics say face shields would help the country reopen more quickly

A group of disease experts from the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics believes the country could reopen more quickly and safely if everyone wore a clear plastic face shield.

 

Doctor Michael Edmond is chief quality officer and infectious disease professor at the University of Iowa Hospital. He says he’s working on modeling how much universal face shield use would reduce coronavirus transmission, and he believes it would allow some social distancing measures to be relaxed.

 

Edmond says the face shields have several advantages. “They’re more durable than face masks. The medical face masks don’t last very long at all. The cloth masks can be reused and laundered. But face shields can just be wiped off.”

 

He says they cover the eyes and prevent people from touching their face. Edmond says face shields are also readily available.

 

11:00 a.m. - Gov. Reynolds' daily press conference

There will be no press conference this Friday. Daily briefings will resume Monday, May 11.

Thursday, May 7

7:31 p.m. - Due to coronavirus concerns, immigrant advocates are calling for the release of three men who were detained after an immigration raid in eastern Iowa

Immigration and Customs Enforcement took the three Linn County men into custody in March. Family members say they’ve been deeply affected by the separation and they’re worried the men could contract the coronavirus in detention.

Two of them are being held in the Linn County jail, where two employees have tested positive for the virus.

County Supervisor Stacey Walker joined Iowa CCI and the Iowa City Catholic Worker House in calling for their release. “These three individuals we are advocating for are low level nonviolent offenders. They were never a threat to society, they are not dangerous criminals.”

For weeks, local and state agencies have worked to aggressively limit the number of people held in correctional facilities, due to the virus. The Linn County sheriff says it’s up to federal officials to release the men.

7:25 p.m. – Black Hawk County officials say more than a thousand employees of the Tyson plant in Waterloo have tested positive for the coronavirus

On Tuesday, state public health officials said 444 employees at the Tyson plant in Waterloo had tested positive. On Thursday, Black Hawk County staff said their total was 1,031 workers.

Local officials say they’re including the onsite testing at the plant, testing done by area healthcare providers and serological testing.

The county public health department’s Joshua Pikora says their total gives a more complete picture of the scope of the outbreak. “The 444 cases reported by the governor were confirmed PCR positive cases done onsite at…from the onsite testing at Tyson.”

The announcement comes the same day the company resumed limited operations at its pork plant in Waterloo, which employs some 2,800 people.

Read more on this story from IPR’s Kate Payne.

4:34 p.m. - A Sioux City hospital moves four patients to other hospitals in the region

 

The patients were moved in order to expand the number of intensive care unit beds available for patients sick from the novel coronavirus.

 

St. Lukes transferred the four patients this week to another UnityPoint hospital and regional hospitals in Nebraska and South Dakota. In an email to IPR, a spokesperson said the move allows the hospital to expand its number of intensive care unit beds. Their ICU currently has 30 beds dedicated to COVID-19 patients and six for patients with other illnesses. They’re expanding to 44 ICU beds. Sioux City’s other hospital MercyOne Siouxland says it’s not at capacity and does not plan to move patients. 

 

The two hospitals are caring for 78 COVID-19 patients combined as of Thursday afternoon. 

 

Read more from IPR's Katie Peikes.

 

3:03 p.m. - 655 new COVID-19 cases, 12 more deaths reported Thursday

Iowa Department of Public Health reports 655 additional COVID-19 cases Thursday for a total of 11,059 confirmed cases. Twelve more deaths were reported, bringing the total number of coronavirus deaths to 231.

 

The state has changed its reporting timeframe, so the latest numbers represent about one-and-a-half days worth of data.

 

417 Iowans were hospitalized, and more than 4,000 Iowans have recovered, according to the state.

New cases: 655 Confirmed cases: 11,059 Deaths: 231

2:42 p.m. Gov. Kim Reynolds shifts the focus of Iowa’s coronavirus response to "aggressive" testing and contact tracing

 

That’s as virus cases and deaths continue to increase in the state. Reynolds says the state has accomplished its goal of not overwhelming hospitals because about 80 percent of the state’s ICU beds and 75 percent of ventilators are available. It’s not clear if Iowa has hit its peak of hospitalizations, and new hotspots are emerging.

 

Reynolds says Iowa’s “aggressive” testing and contact tracing can be used to mitigate virus activity as the state reopens.

 

Reviews of testing and contact tracing capacity by NPR show that Iowa hasn’t met the threshold for safely reopening. IPR asked Reynolds how she squares that with her statements. “Iowans can be proud of what we’re doing. You should be proud of what we’re doing. We are leading. And we’re leading by example and we’re gonna continue to lead.”

 

Asked why she’s reopening in areas with increasing cases and deaths, Reynolds says Iowans can make their own decisions about where they go.

12:12 p.m. – Black Hawk County Official Once Critical Of Tyson Now Voices 'Cautious' Support

As the Tyson plant in Waterloo resumes limited operations Thursday, a local official who once hammered the company says he’s now encouraged by new safety protocols.

As of Thursday, Black Hawk County had 1,600 confirmed coronavirus cases and 20 residents have died. County Sheriff Tony Thompson says Tyson “owns a lot of that responsibility” for the spread of the virus.

But after touring the plant with other local leaders, he describes the upgrades as “massive”. “As hard as I worked to shut them down, I’m going to work just as hard to help stand them back up because we’ve got people there working paycheck to paycheck and they need that job. And they are a huge employer in Black Hawk County so we need to support them.”

Some Tyson employees have told IPR they’re afraid to return to work because of the virus, and say the company hasn’t adequately communicated the scale of infections at the facility.

10:45 a.m. - Iowa Workforce Development reports 24,693 workers filed new unemployment claims last week

That includes people who work in Iowa but live out-of-state. It’s a slight decrease from the week before.

The manufacturing sector accounts for about a quarter of those claims. More than 4,000 people in the category for self-employed workers also filed with the agency.

The number of unemployed Iowans receiving ongoing assistance surpassed 180,000. The previous peak during the Great Recession was 67,000.

11:00 a.m. - Gov. Reynolds hosts press conference after returning from White House visit 

9:50 a.m. – Tyson Fresh Meats plans to resume limited operations Thursday at its beef plant in Dakota City, Nebraska

In a statement, the company says it has finished processing COVID-19 test results, and all employees returning to work have been tested. Tyson adds that employees who have tested positive will stay on sick leave “until they’ve satisfied official health requirements for return to work.”

Tyson says it’s strengthened its safety protocols to “meet or exceed local, state and federal guidelines.” The company says it has safeguards in place at all facilities to protect workers, like taking their temperatures, providing them with face coverings and putting up dividers at work stations.

Tyson paused production at the northeastern Nebraska facility on May 1 to deep clean the entire plant. 

Wednesday, May 6

5:48 p.m. – Additional businesses in Iowa begin reopening Friday

Campgrounds, drive-in movie theaters, tanning facilities and medical spas can reopen throughout the state if they follow certain public health measures.

Dental procedures can resume if the dentist has enough personal protective equipment.

In the 22 counties with more strict coronavirus policies, fitness centers will be allowed to open by appointment with one patron at a time. Malls and other retail establishments can reopen at 50 percent legal capacity.

Social and fraternal clubs in the 77 counties with less strict policies can reopen to serve food and beverages at 50 percent legal capacity.

5:41 p.m. – Gov. Kim Reynolds meets with the president and other top officials at the White House

Vice President Mike Pence told Reynolds Iowa has been “a success story” and is “leading the pack” in its efforts to mitigate COVID-19 impacts and keep food production going.

This week, Iowa’s confirmed coronavirus cases surpassed 10,000, and the state’s biggest single-day increase in deaths was reported. The state also announced more than 1,600 Iowans who work at four meatpacking plants tested positive for the virus.

Reynolds thanked President Trump for his recent order for meatpacking plants to stay open.

She told federal officials Iowa can responsibly start to reopen because about 80 percent of its ventilators and ICU beds are available and because testing capacity is increasing.

Reynolds also touted Test Iowa, but hasn’t said how many tests have been completed through that program.

4:36 p.m. – Sioux City Farmers market opens despite the growing number of COVID-19 cases in northwest Iowa’s Woodbury County

Market Manager Becky Barnes says opening day Wednesday went “really well.” She estimates around 300 people came in, quickly shopped and left. “And I saw a lot of that today. I didn’t see any patrons staying for the amount of the time they have in the past. I think it went over pretty well. The atmosphere, it’s a little different, we don’t have our music like we used to and we don’t have our seats like we used to.”

Northwest Iowa’s Woodbury County has more than 1,300 cases of COVID-19. Farmers market staff say they’ve put safety protocols in place like spacing vendors farther apart and placing hand sanitizer stations throughout the market. They also highly recommend that shoppers wear masks.

12:01 p.m. – Tyson Fresh Meats set to resume limited operation at Waterloo plant

Nearly two weeks after closing its Waterloo plant amid public outcry, Tyson Fresh Meats will be resuming limited operations at the pork facility Thursday.

In a statement, Tyson says workers will be able to visit the plant Wednesday before it reopens to see safety upgrades.

The corporation has also contracted with an Arizona-based health care company to open an onsite clinic staffed with nurses, where workers can get daily screenings and coronavirus testing.

State leaders confirmed Tuesday that 444 workers at the plant had tested positive for the virus. Local health officials say Tyson’s operations fueled an explosion of cases in Black Hawk County, where 20 people have died of COVID-19 as of Wednesday. 

11:57 a.m. – State reports 293 additional cases of COVID-19, 12 more deaths

State officials are reporting 293 additional cases of COVID-19, bringing the state’s total to 10,404 cases.

Twelve more Iowans have died from complications related to the virus. So far, 219 Iowans have died from COVID-19.

State and national labs have performed more than 57,000 tests to date, and 414 Iowans are currently hospitalized with the virus. More than 3,800 have recovered.

Gov. Kim Reynolds did not hold a press conference Wednesday because she has traveled to Washington D.C. to update President Trump on the status of COVID-19 in the state.

Tuesday, May 5

5:08 p.m. – Vice President Mike Pence to visit Des Moines

Vice President Mike Pence plans to visit Des Moines this Friday to discuss issues related to the coronavirus pandemic.

A news release from his office says Pence will meet with faith leaders to encourage houses of worship to reopen responsibly. Pence is also expected to speak with agriculture and food industry representatives about keeping the food supply secure.  

The announcement comes as Iowa surpassed 10,000 coronavirus cases and saw 19 more deaths, the most in a single day.

Gov. Kim Reynolds is also visiting the White House this week. She says she’ll update the president and vice president on Iowa’s efforts to fight the virus.

5:01 p.m. - Latino organization calls for boycott of processed meat

One of the country’s largest Latino organizations is calling for a boycott of processed meat, due to outbreaks of the coronavirus at meat packing plants. The facilities employ thousands of workers, many of them immigrants and refugees. Plants in Iowa and across the U.S. are becoming hotspots of the virus.

Now the League of United Latin American Citizens is calling on consumers to join an effort they’re calling “Meatless May”. Joe Enriquez Henry leads the Des Moines chapter of LULAC. “It's a terrible situation. This is, this is again the time for people in America to speak up…to urge for safety and health procedures for these workers, to make sure that we have justice in the workplace.”

Advocates are also calling on corporate meat companies to test all their employees, provide paid sick leave, and slow down their production lines so workers can stand farther apart.

4:02 p.m. – Iowa Department of Education to share more than $71 million with public school districts

The Iowa Department of Education will share more than $71 million in federal relief funds with public school districts to offset the cost of switching to distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The money can be used to partially pay for online learning technology, training, mental health services and educational support for students with disabilities. Ann Lebo is the director of the Iowa Department of Education. “Schools had to take on a lot of expanded and unexpected roles so this first wave of funds is really to help support that.”

Districts have said they’re concerned about the virus cutting into their budgets. They’re spending more money on distance learning while also losing revenue as sales taxes and other local sources of funding decline.

Gov. Kim Reynolds says her office is still working through the broader impact of the virus on school funding in the state budget.

1:50 p.m. – State health officials names five manufacturing plants in Iowa with outbreaks of COVID-19

They include the TPI Composites wind blade plant in Newton, the Iowa Premium beef packing plant in Tama and three Tyson Foods facilities in Waterloo, Columbus Junction and Perry.

At the Perry plant northwest of Des Moines, 730 workers tested positive for the virus. That’s 58 percent of the workers who were tested.

If we weren't testing in these areas people would still have the virus and without being tested, diagnosed and isolated it could spread even further. - Gov. Reynolds

Gov. Kim Reynolds says the state is focusing testing on businesses and communities with the most virus activity. “If we weren’t testing in these areas people would still have the virus and without being tested, diagnosed and isolated it could spread even further.”

Going forward the state will report outbreaks when at least 10 percent of employees at a single location test positive or come in close contact with the virus. It must also be considered a high risk location because people are forced to work closely.

1:45 p.m. – 408 new COVID-19 cases, 19 more deaths reported Tuesday

The Iowa Department of Public Health reported 19 more people have died from the coronavirus, bringing the state to 207 deaths so far in the pandemic.

New cases: 408 Confirmed cases: 10,111 Deaths: 207

An additional 408 people have tested positive for COVID-19, putting Iowa at 10,111 confirmed cases. Nearly two-thirds of the new cases came from Polk and Black Hawk counties.

Because of a delay in reporting new data, those are the known numbers as of 10 a.m. Monday.

At that time 407 Iowans were hospitalized with the virus. More than 3,500 people have recovered.

 11:00 a.m. - Gov. Reynolds hosts press conference

Monday, May 4

6:14 p.m. - Tyson Fresh Meats to delay reopening its Dakota City, Nebraska beef facility

In a statement, Tyson says it’s processing a lot of COVID-19 testing data for its 4,300 employees. The plant employs workers from around the Sioux City metro area.

The company paused production at the northeastern Nebraska beef facility on Friday to deep clean the entire plant. It had initially planned to reopen Tuesday. The Sioux City Journal reported last week that 669 workers have tested positive for COVID-19. IPR received a similar estimate, but Tyson has declined to confirm it.

Tyson says it’s notifying its workers with instructions to report for work based on their test results. It’s unclear when the plant will reopen.

3:38 p.m. – State isn't relying on Test Iowa equipment to report COVID-19 test results

More than a week into testing for coronavirus through the new Test Iowa initiative, the state still hasn’t relied on the lab equipment provided under that contract to report out test results.

Some Iowans have been tested for coronavirus at the four Test Iowa drive-thru sites.

But when the swabs get to the state hygienic lab for processing, state officials say staff are sending them through existing lab equipment and new Test Iowa equipment to ensure the results are accurate.

Gov. Kim Reynolds says it’s part of the typical test validation process. “I have complete confidence in Dr. Pentella and the state hygienic lab to complete the process. They’re not going to validate it until they’re comfortable that it meets the criteria that it needs to meet.”

Reynolds has said increasing testing through this initiative allows her to look at more granular data and supports her decision to open up parts of the state. But the department of public health has declined to say how many tests have been completed through Test Iowa.

3:31 p.m. - Des Moines Symphony postpones summer concerts

The Des Moines Symphony has postponed its Yankee Doodle Pops and Water Works concerts. Instead, the symphony has reimagined its Yankee Doodle Pops as a Labor Day special concert in honor of those on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Symphony will also hold a weekend of free music Saturday, Sept. 5 through Monday, Sept. 7.

In a video posted on the organization’s Facebook, Maestro Joseph Giunta stated they wanted to give the community something to look forward to while social distancing.  “It’s our hope that by postponing our annual celebration, we can help our community not only by slowing the spread of the virus, but by giving us all something to celebrate once we are able to safely gather together again.”

2:09 p.m. – Six residents of a state-run facility for Iowans with disabilities test positive for coronavirus

The cases at Woodward Resource Center are the first among those who live at the six residential facilities run by the Iowa Department of Human Services.

DHS Director Kelly Garcia says it was a matter of when, not if, they’d have a confirmed case in one of the facilities. “To protect other residents in the home, those who test positive or become symptomatic are transitioned to other houses on campus designated for positive cases.”

Garcia says nine DHS employees across five of the facilities have tested positive for coronavirus. She says most of them had no interaction with clients.

12:38 p.m.  – Iowa Board of Regents advances proposal not to raise tuition next fall

The Iowa Board of Regents is advancing a proposal to not raise tuition at the state’s three public universities next fall. In a summary of the plan the board says keeping tuition flat will make college costs more predictable for students and families during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Base tuition for Iowa residents will stay at about $9,600 at the University of Iowa, $9,300 at Iowa State and $8,900 at Northern Iowa. The board is expected to finalize tuition rates at their June meeting.

The regents are also considering changes to make up for the impact of the virus on university budgets. Together with the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics the universities face an estimated $263 million in lost revenue and new expenses from March through August of this year.

11:54 a.m. – 534 new COVID-19 cases, 4 more deaths reported Monday

The Iowa Department of Public Health reported 534 additional COVID-19 cases Monday for a total of 9,703 confirmed cases.

New cases: 534 Confirmed cases: 9,703 Deaths: 188

Four more deaths were reported, bringing the total number of coronavirus deaths to 188. Lag time in the state’s reporting system means these are the known numbers as of 10 a.m. Sunday.

An additional long-term care facility outbreak was announced, bringing the state total to 28, and 389 Iowans are hospitalized.

A total of 3,486 Iowans have recovered, according to the state.

11:00 a.m. - Gov. Reynolds hosts press conference

9:59 a.m. – County fair organizers deciding how to proceed

The first county fairs that are scheduled to take place this summer must decide how to continue while COVID-19 is still a threat. Some of the counties have partially reopened, but large crowds are still banned.

Tom Barnes is the volunteer manager of the Mighty Howard County Fair which starts on June 23. He says organizers are working on backup plans to judge livestock and other exhibits if the fair is canceled. If it can continue, he says the fair needs more guidance on how to manage crowds.

“If we’re asked by the government or the health department to maintain some sort of surveillance as they come onto the grounds that’s quite a bit of work in a short period of time to get set up,” he said.

The Howard County fair is one of eight fairs scheduled to begin in June. Barnes says they’ll decide what to do by mid-May.

Sunday, May 3

11:27 a.m. – 528 new COVID-19 cases, 9 more deaths announced Sunday

State officials are reporting 528 additional confirmed cases of COVID-19. This brings the total number of cases in Iowa to 9,169.

New cases: 528 Confirmed cases: 9,169 Deaths: 184

Twenty-three percent of the new cases have been reported in the 77 counties where the governor has started to ease restrictions.

Nine more Iowans have died from the virus, bringing the state's total to 184 deaths, and 78 Iowans are hospitalized with the virus while 3,325 have recovered.

On Saturday, the state reported 757 new cases, which is the most the state has seen in a day, for a total of 1,285 new cases announced this weekend.