IOWA CITY (AP) — A resident of northeastern Iowa is the first person in the state whose death has been linked to the coronavirus outbreak, which continues to spread statewide, Gov. Kim Reynolds said Tuesday.
Reynolds identified the deceased as an “older adult” resident of Dubuque County who was between 61 and 80 years old. Reynolds and the Dubuque County Public Health Department said that no other information would be released about the individual.
“Our hearts are heavy with the first loss of an Iowan to COVID-19,” Reynolds said. “The thoughts and prayers of our state are with the family during this difficult time.”
The announcement came hours after a news conference in which Reynolds and a top state public health official reiterated that they had no plans to issue a “shelter in place” order like those imposed in some neighboring states. They said they didn’t see such a move as necessary at this point.
Dubuque County Public Health official Patrice Lambert called the death “a tragedy and a reminder for all of the seriousness of this virus.” But she said that it was important for county residents to know that it does not signal they are more at risk than residents of other parts of the state.
Reynolds said that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has grown by another 19 across Iowa, bringing the state total to 124. The virus has now been detected in 30 of the state’s 99 counties and state data shows that 18 patients are currently hospitalized with the virus.
Reynolds has shut down most public gathering spaces and temporarily closed schools. But she has resisted issuing an order that would require residents to stay in their homes except for limited purposes. She has said voluntary efforts to encourage social distancing may be working, citing a steep drop in the amount of traffic on state highways.
Reynolds said she was making decisions based on public health data and recommendations and would adjust as necessary.
She said that she shared President Donald Trump’s goal of reopening businesses as soon as possible but that she would make decisions independent of the president. Trump said Tuesday he hoped the U.S. could be “opened up” by Easter despite warnings from public health officials that stricter restrictions are needed to reduce the spread of the virus.
“I want to get business back to normal as quickly as I can too but I want to make sure we’re protecting Iowans and making decisions on the right data points,” Reynolds said. “We really do believe across the country we can bend the curve and get business back to normal sooner than later.”
For most people, COVID-19 causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.
The largest concentration of cases in Iowa continues to be in Johnson County, where 37 cases are confirmed. Polk County in central Iowa has the second highest number with 17 cases.
State data shows 70 women have tested positive and 54 men. People aged 61 to 80 are the largest group affected with 61 cases, nearly half of the positive cases, in that age group.
The amount of tests conducted at the state hygienic laboratory and by private companies has increased dramatically in recent days, and additional testing capacity is on the way.
The state’s largest hospital, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, said that it would begin running a “limited number of laboratory tests” on Friday.
Those tests will be limited to patients who have been screened through a video visit with UI Health Care or admitted to the hospital and the number that can be run will depend on the availability of supplies such as swabs. Results will be provided within 4 to 12 hours.
Also Tuesday, Polk County announced it would open a shelter at the Iowa State Fairgrounds for homeless people with COVID-19. Those who test positive for the illness can recover at the Youth Inn, a spot that during the fair is home to hundreds of young exhibitors. The county will provide meals, beds, laundry services and medical care.