DES MOINES – Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds held a press conference regarding recent efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 Monday afternoon at the Iowa Emergency Operations Center in Des Moines.
“This is an unprecedented time for our state and our nation,” said Reynolds. “In the course of one week, we have learned of the first positive cases of COVID-19 in Iowans, identified community spread and implemented mitigation strategies, including school closures, to protect the health and safety of all Iowans.”
Reynolds went on to confirm that the Iowa Department of Public Health identified an additional case of COVID-19 in a resident of Dallas County, bringing the total of positive cases in Iowa to 23 as of Monday afternoon.
“Our efforts are focused on preventing a sudden spike in positive cases that could overwhelm our healthcare system and cause other significant impact to the state,” said Reynolds.
Reynolds said she held meetings earlier in the day with all state agency directors and was updated on mitigation plans as well as operational plans to ensure business continuity. Reynolds said her team also met with Iowa’s health systems and insurance provider organizations to discuss readiness to handle those who become ill with COVID-19.
Sunday night, Reynolds issued a recommendation that schools close for four weeks to mitigate the spread, saying the recommendation was driven by evidence-based guidelines from federal partners at the Center for Disease Control as well as coordination with the Iowa Department of Public Health.
“We know that our children are generally less affected by COVID-19 than others, however they can carry the virus, thus spreading it into the community,” said Reynolds. “We also have teachers and staff working in our schools who are older adults, and others, including children, with underlying health conditions that would put them at risk.”
Reynolds said she is aware of the larger impact of mass school closures and is actively setting safeguards to help minimize potential damage.
“We know that closing schools will have a ripple effect for Iowa families, businesses and our work force,” said Reynolds. “I understand that many families are concerned about how to care for the children and how to go to work.”
Reynolds said childcare plays a key role in supporting Iowa’s ability to continue essential functions, discussing efforts made with the Iowa Department of Education, Iowa Department of Human Services and Iowa Department of public health to put policies in place to ensure access to childcare.
“This includes financial assistance so that childcare providers who receive childcare assistance are paid on enrollment rather than attendance, and ways to expedite licensing so we can quickly ramp up childcare capacity,” said Reynolds.
Reynolds also assured Iowans that meal programs will still be available despite school cancellations.
“Iowa has already applied for and received a waiver allowing schools to continue meals upon closure,” said Reynolds. “Schools will be able to activate their summer meal programs and provide meals in non-group settings such as pickup or a grab and go.”
Legislature is considering legislation to waive the instructional time requirement for any time missed during the school closures set to expire April 12. Reynolds said if that legislation reaches her desk, she will sign it.
“That will also provide me the authority to waive the requirement for a longer period of time if we determine that that becomes necessary,” said Reynolds.
A second shift is being added to the State Hygienic Laboratory at the University of Iowa. This action is intended to increase testing capabilities.
“Our daily capacities for running tests will now increase from 54 to 108 tests per day,” said Reynolds. “When the situation warrants, we are ready at that point to add a third shift so we can run tests around the clock.”
National labs have began running tests from Iowa as well. Positive results are required to be reported to the state hygienic laboratory, with those results being included in the daily updates from the governor. However, information such as pending tests or negative results will not be reported.
“Because the information available to the state hygienic lab and the Department of Health is now changing, we will continue to report our positive cases and the county of residence but we will no longer be able to provide information regarding any non-risk factors or contact information related to the positive cases,” said Reynolds.
Reynolds said she believes social distancing to be a key strategy in slowing the spread of COVID-19, but she understands the financial burden that can come with it. In coordination with the Iowa Workforce Development Department, Reynolds announced assistance for employees and employers affected by layoffs related to the virus hours before the press conference.
“Iowa has some incredible employers accommodating the needs of Iowans during the disruption caused by COVID-19,” said Reynolds. “The State of Iowa is doing everything we can to ease the process and shorten the time it will take for Iowans to receive unemployment benefits.”
Individuals who are required to self-isolate or care for family members due to COVID-19 can also receive unemployment benefits provided all eligibility requirements are met. Additionally, employers will not be charged for these unemployment claims. Fact-finding interviews, waiting period, work search and work availability requirements.
Iowa Workforce Development will hold webinars Tuesday, a webinar for employers at 12 p.m. and one for claimants at 1 p.m. They will be recorded live as well as posted on the Iowa Workforce Development website at www.iowaworkforcedevelopment.gov.
Reynolds said she had joined a call earlier Monday morning with other governors, President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. During this call, Trump discussed his meeting with representatives of the grocery industry.
“He assured us that stores will stay open,” said Reynolds. “He asks that all Americans shop for their weekly needs, allowing stores to keep the items in stock so that everyone can purchase their essentials.”
Reynolds said she had also met with members of the Iowa grocery industry last week and received a similar message.
“They indicated the same thing,” said Reynolds. “We are coordinating efforts there to make sure we can get commodities out to the locations so Iowans can be served.”
Reynolds said Trump shared that more testing capabilities are being rolled out throughout the country, but also urged Americans to practice social distancing and proper hygiene.
“You can make a difference,” said Reynolds. “Now is a critical time where we can mitigate and slow the spread of the virus in our state. But it takes all of us working together and doing the right thing to make that happen.”