Governor to resume biweekly news conferences on state’s COVID-19 mitigation efforts
BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
DES MOINES – Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said the state is going to start penalizing restaurants, bars and other food establishments for not enforcing social distancing and enhanced hygiene measures.
The announcement came at press conference Reynolds held on Thursday just hours after a press release was issued earlier Thursday rolling out the penalties.
Reynolds also announced she will resume her biweekly press conferences updating the state on efforts to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus in Iowa starting next week.
Similar to previous press conferences, they will be streamed live via her Facebook page from Maytag Auditorium in Johnston.
Bi-weekly press conferences will be held Tuesday and Thursday of each week at Iowa at 11 a.m.
Reynolds said per data state officials are seeing, they know where the increased positive numbers are coming from and that’s from social gatherings.
“It’s social gatherings in homes, restaurants, bars and at lakes,” she said. “That’s why we’ve ramped up enforcement on bars and restaurants with a first offense being $1,000 fine, the second being a 7-day suspension and the third being revocation. We know where the increased positivity is coming from.
“I’ve said in my proclamations that if you’re in a group of 10 – social distance. People aren’t doing it,” Reynolds said.
Positivity rates in the state have climbed to 9.3%, with Wednesday numbers at 8.6%. Lee County currently has a positivity rate of 3.2% well below the state average, but the 14-day rolling positive case counts in the county is at an all-time high since March 8. As of Thursday the 14-day total was 25 with two more cases identified Thursday.
Lee County now has seen 86 positive cases, including 13 in the past week, with 53 listed as recovered.
Reynolds held a press conference along with State Epidemiologist Dr. Caitlin Pedati and Dept. of Education Director Dr. Ann Lebo on Thursday morning to outline additional guidance for school districts as part of the Return to Learn statewide initiative.
Reynolds said putting students back in school is the best path moving forward unless data indicates other measures need to take place.
“We need to keep our next generation learning and growing. Online is an essential part of that, but it can’t make up for the critical role schools play in development of social and emotional skills that children rely on,” she said.
She said a statewide coordination over local control is required because so many of the state’s school districts reside in multiple counties seeing different impacts of the virus.
“We’re all going to need a great deal of flexibility going forward. As we’ve seen all along with this virus, data and circumstances will change and we’ll need to adapt,” Reynolds said.
Pedati said guidance will focus on district positivity ratings and absenteeism among staff and students. She said districts in counties with 0-5% positive rates should be considered at minimal risk, while 6% to 10% is considered minimal to moderate risk.
Lebo said any schools in counties with positivity rates higher than 10% with absenteeism in excess of 10% will be able to request temporary remote learning.
“The key takeaways are that COVID-19 poses low risks to school-aged children based on low transmission in the community,” Reynolds said. ‘Children are not driving the pandemic and transmission from student to students and teachers has been low. With proper tools and resources, we can reopen safely.”
The Department of Education will be sending out a survey to districts to find out what is needed as far as personal protective gear. She said the state will supply the first 30 days for the districts.
To date just 6% of Iowa’s reported confirmed cases are for children under the age of 18.
“Children are less likely to be infected and when they are, they appear to have a less severe illness,” Pedati said.
She said when a school identifies a positive case, which she expects to happen, the process will begin with a notification to local public health, who will then start looking for other exposures and make recommendations. The threshold will be close contact, within six feet, for more than 15 minutes.
A list will then be populated of those exposed, and those deemed to have been in close contact will be quarantined for 14 days regardless of any individual testing results.
“It’s important that we continue to remember that this a very fluid situation, and we need to continue to remain flexible and we might need to adjust our guidance again in the future as we learn new things,” she said.
Reynolds said the additional resources schools provide in addition to academics is the key reason for putting students back in classrooms.
“I think collectively all of us would like to think we need to get our kids back in the classroom. The school provides so much more than just academics – social and emotional learning, especially kids with disabilities and behavioral issues.”