Much of Iowa reopened for business Friday as Gov. Kim Reynolds said she was confident in hospitals’ capacity to handle rising COVID-19 cases should they occur.
Meanwhile, an Iowa infectious disease doctor said the state is reopening too early, but the public won’t see the consequences until weeks from now because of COVID-19’s incubation period. A lack of widespread testing and contact tracing means the state is opening without reliable data to determine the spread of COVID-19 and if rates are declining, said Megan Srinivas, an infectious disease physician in Fort Dodge.
Reynolds announced her decision to relax restrictions a day after Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top Trump administration health official, warned members of Congress that reopening the country too soon could “trigger an outbreak that you might not be able to control, which, in fact, paradoxically, will set you back.”
Some areas of Iowa continue to see increases in COVID-19 cases. Polk County was identified last week as one of the 10 counties in the nation with the fastest-growing rates of coronavirus.
A record number of Iowans died from COVID-19-related deaths during the week ending Sunday. The state reported 86 people died compared with 84 during the previous week bringing the total number to 351 people.
Here is a recap of key events of the past week:
Two potential cases of pediatric illness reported: Iowa’s chief medical doctor said Monday two potential cases of COVID-19-related inflammatory disease have been reported in children in Eastern Iowa. “The children are stable, and we are working to gather more information,” said Dr. Caitlin Pedati, Iowa’s medical director and epidemiologist. The state received the reports of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) Friday afternoon and did not identify the specific locations. Health officials said the cases are not in Clinton or Jackson counties. The syndrome causes fever and inflammation throughout the body after a likely infection, similar to Kawasaki disease, Pedati said. The state has made PMIS a mandatory reportable condition in Iowa, she added. Last week the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) sent an alert to healthcare providers and public health officials about MIS-C.The CDC said its working with partners to better understand this new syndrome, including how common it is and its risk factors, and to begin tracking cases.
Confirmed COVID-19 cases continue to increase: As of noon Monday, Iowa had 14,955confirmed COVID-19 cases. Ninety-five of Iowa’s 99 counties have at least one confirmed case. Clinton County has a total of 62 confirmed cases and one death. Jackson County has a total of eight cases.
As of Monday, at least 1.5 million Americans have tested positive for the virus, according to the New York Times database. More than 89,500 patients with the virus have died. Worldwide, more than 4.7 million people have been sickened by the pandemic, and at least 315,000 have died. The virus has been detected in at least 177 countries.
Iowa unemployment rises 12% in two weeks: The ranks of the unemployed continued to grow in Iowa last week as the state fielded more than 16,000 new claims for unemployment benefits. Iowa Workforce Development reported that between May 3 and May 9, a total of 16,735 new claims for unemployment benefits were filed. The number of new claims represents a significant reduction from the week before, when the state received 24,693 initial claims for unemployment, and the week before that when 28,827 new claims were filed. Last week’s new claims bring the number of continuing, weekly unemployment claims to 191,257 – a 12% increase from two weeks earlier.
Local businesses receive state grant: Several more local businesses received grants from the Iowa Economic Development Authority. So far, 52 business in Clinton County and 23 in Jackson County have received about $1.4 million of the $24 million earmarked in the Small Business Relief Program. The Iowa Small Business Relief Program grants range from $5,000 to $25,000. Businesses added last week include:
Clinton County: Detco Incorporated, $11,000; MARC LLC, $11,000; and Sun Central Tanning & Wellness, $10,000. Jackson County: Brightpoint Hotels LLC, $25,000; Martin P. Enterprises LLC, $18,000
Iowa DOT may delay road projects due to drop in gas tax collections: Iowa may delay some road projects over the next five years because motorists are traveling less due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a key transportation official said. Gas tax payments, which are used for construction, are down at the same time revenue from new vehicle sales fees is declining. Some projects had already been delayed a year by a sharp increase in construction costs last year, the state reported. Money for roads is falling an estimated 25%, or $35 million, a month. The peak drop for Iowa highway traffic came the week of April 9, at 44%. It has been slowly growing, but still was down 33% for the week of May 7, compared with the same week in 2019.
Iowa Legislature to resume 2020 session June 3: The Iowa Legislature will resume its interrupted 2020 session June 3, Republican legislative leaders said Wednesday. The legislative session has been suspended since March 16, when community spread of COVID-19 was first confirmed in the state. Polk County, where the State Capitol is located, remains a hot spot for COVID-19 activity. It was identified last week as one of the counties in the nation with the fastest-growing rates of new coronavirus cases. The legislative session is scheduled to resume the day after Iowa’s June 2 primary elections.
Patient-safety regulations remain suspended as Iowa and other states reopen: With nursing homes now accounting for one-third of all COVID-19 deaths in the U.S., state and federal officials are continuing to hold in suspension dozens of regulations intended to protect residents of such facilities. The regulatory rollback was initiated in March and is designed to eliminate bureaucratic hurdles that might exacerbate staffing shortages or make it harder for health care providers to maximize the use of medical personnel and equipment in the midst of a global public health emergency.
Reynolds acknowledges Test Iowa glitches, says it can now ramp up: Reynolds said Thursday that the $26 million Test Iowa program, which has yet to perform the anticipated number of COVID-19 tests, will soon be ramping up its work as the test validation process is complete. The program has been beset with complaints about limited access to testing and delays in informing Iowans of their test results. The contractor hired through a no-bid contract to manage the program, Nomi Health, is supposed to be performing 3,000 COVID-19 tests per day, but so far has fallen far short of that goal. In Nebraska, some state lawmakers have accused Nomi Health of failing to meet the minimum number of tests to be performed. In Utah, where questions have been raised about the accuracy of the company’s testing, Nomi Health has declined to join other major laboratories in a joint experiment to confirm the quality of one another’s work. Iowa Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, asked House Speaker Pat Grassley last week whether the Government Oversight Committee would look into the Test Iowa program. “The week of May 11th, Test Iowa processed 3,100 tests and we were promised 3,000 a day. And it’s been three weeks and we’re not even close to that yet,” Steckman said.
— Compiled by Nancy Mayfield from Iowa Capital Dispatch and other sources.