BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
JOHNSTON – Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds says data has pushed the northeast region of the state to a risk assessment score of 10 forcing residents to their homes.
At Thursday’s daily COVID-19 press conference, Reynolds said data from long-term care facility outbreaks has pushed Region 6, which represents the northeast corner of the state, to the highest level seen since the Regional Medical Coordination Centers were established.
Workers in those states will still be allowed to go to work at those designated essential business in the region. But other self-mitigation efforts were minimal including canceling social activities and only immediate households were allowed to gather. Reynolds said 80% of the state’s businesses are currently considered essential.
Weddings and funeral were limited to 10 people and residents were encouraged to continue practicing social distancing. Reynolds did not issue a shelter in place order.
She did say additional testing was being sent into the area and strike teams would be put in place to work with large businesses and law enforcement on educating residents on how to deal with the virus activity.
“So today, based on that ranking we are implementing additional mitigation. Effective at 11:59 p.m. in all Region 6 counties all gatherings for social activity will cease through April 30, only immediate household are allowed to gather with exceptions such as weddings and funerals, which will continue to be restricted to 10 individuals or less,” Reynolds said.
“Of course residents of Region 6 and all Iowans should continue to take personal responsibility for their health and those of others by staying home, practicing good hygiene, social distancing and isolate at home if your sick. If you need medical attention, call the doctor first.”
Reynolds said the state Department of Public Health has activated additional response teams for testing, tracing and education efforts in the region. She said “Strike Teams” are being dispatched to long-term care facilities and large business where outbreaks are occurring or anticipated.
Another outbreak at a meat packing plant in Waterloo is now being investigated and Reynolds said 1,500 tests are being sent to that facility in Blackhawk County today.
Two more outbreaks were confirmed at long-term care centers in the state, including Linn Manor Care Center in Linn County, and Lutheran Living Senior Campus in Muscatine County. The outbreaks bring the number in the state to nine confirmed.
Region 5, which include Lee, Henry, Des Moines, and Van Buren counties among others, had 12 new patients hospitalized Wednesday, with 66 currently in hospital beds. Sixteen are currently on ventilators and 29 are in ICUs in the region.
The State Hygienic Lab had 146 new positive cases against 660 negative cases. The state has seen 2,141 positive cases and 8,534 negative cases. Health officials claim 987 patients have recovered and there were seven additional deaths, two were employees at the Tyson facility. The state has now had 60 people die from the COVID-19 illness, 30 of those were residents of long-term care centers.
The state will launch a new initiative in the coming days called Test Iowa, which will be a ramped up testing initiative
“Test Iowa is an initiative to enable us to conduct large-scale testing and tracing across the state. Test Iowa will ramp up testing capacity by more than 3,000 per day,” she said.
She said plans are still being formulated for the rollout of the new tests and the state will also begin doing serology testing, which is a blood-based test that looks for antibodies for specific proteins made by the body in response to infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
She said serology testing will begin in two locations, but didn’t specify which two those would be. She said the state was awaiting supplies and reagents to launch the testing.
When asked by pool reporters about the additional meat packing plant potential outbreak, Reynolds said USDA and OSHA officials are always inspecting those plants and some have inspectors on site daily as a matter of practice, indicating the additional testing and strike teams are the additional resources being applied to the outbreak.
IDPH Deputy Director Sarah Reisetter reaffirmed the state’s intention of using Iowa Department of Human Resources staff to augment contact tracing that’s going on in rural Iowa counties.
IDPH Director Dr. Caitlin Pedati said the state realizes the challenges and limitations around testing, but they are working daily to expand those resources aimed at stopping the virus.
She said health experts are still learning from COVID-19 and what immunities are being produced and challenged.
“H1N1 was this type of illness where we may see it once and it goes away, or goes down and becomes a seasonal illness. As we learn more it’s important to keep that in mind, because it’s not about a percentage of people that need a test,” Pedati said.
Pedati said the body produces quick antibodies to fight off a bacteria or virus either in the blood or mucous membranes, but then other antibodies come two to four weeks later.
“Those give you a memory or a lasting immune reponse. That’s important if you can teach your immue system to fight something so they can do it again in the future. That’s why you plan your flu vaccine two to four weeks before flu activity,” she said.
Reynolds said she would participating in a governor’s conference call with President Donald Trump today focusing on reopening the country’s economy. She said she would be able to provide details on how that would look from a state and federal perspective on Friday.
“There could be some overlap, but we look forward to working with the administration and the Department of Public Health,” she said.
There was also some anticipation that Reynolds would cancel school for the remainder of the year today, but no discussion that took place. Reynolds said earlier that she would let school officials know two weeks in advance of the April 30 deadline, which would be before Saturday.