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Gov. Kim Reynolds allowing bars to reopen in four of six counties recently restricted

Iowa agencies working on plans to ‘winterize’ COVID-19 testing sites
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds
Published: Sep. 16, 2020 at 10:57 AM CDT|Updated: Sep. 16, 2020 at 1:37 PM CDT
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JOHNSTON, Iowa (WOWT) - Gov. Kim Reynolds gave an update Wednesday morning on Iowa’s COVID-19 response, hours before bars and restaurants in four of the six counties placed under restrictions in August were allowed to resume operation.

Reynolds opened her news conference with an update on the state’s COVID-19 data. She said that since Sept. 1 through Tuesday, more than 108,600 Iowans have been tested for the virus, with more than 99,000 testing negative and about 9,300 testing positive.

The state’s average positivity rate is 8.6%. Of new positive cases so far this month:

  • 48% are people ages 18-40
  • 24% are ages 41-60
  • 13% are ages 61-80
  • 12% are ages 17 and younger
  • 3% are older than age 80

The governor said 72 of 99 counties have a 14-day rolling average that is stable or decreasing, with 74 counties reporting a positivity rate of less than 10% and 14 counties reporting a positivity rate of less than 6%.

Reynolds said that in the six counties where bars were ordered closed Aug. 27, Dallas County is seeing a decrease in new cases; Blackhawk, Polk, Linn, and Story counties are stable; and Johnson County is beginning to stabilize.

“I continue to say this: Until there’s a vaccine, we need to continue to manage COVID-19 in the course of our everyday lifes,” she said, encouraging face masks and hand-washing.

Reynolds signed a new public health emergency proclamation effective today at 5 p.m. that permits bars that have been closed in Blackhawk, Dallas, Linn, and Polk counties to reopen and removes hours restrictions on alcohol sales in restaurants. She said restaurants and bars in Johnston and Story counties will remain closed through Sept. 20, which was the original end date indicated in the public health disaster proclamation issued in August.

“Young adults are still the primary driver of new COVID-19 cases, especially in those two counties,” Reynolds said.

It also clarifies social distancing requirements in bars and restaurants throughout Iowa.

“This has worked well for rest that remained in these counties, and it will now apply to all open restaurants and bars,” she said.

The governor said she will continue to monitor the COVID-19 case trends throughout the state, and will take action as needed. Reynolds also noted that the state has streamlined the due process so that enforcement implemented on “bad actors” will happen within a week.

Planning for winter

The governor also talked about progress being made regarding COVID-19 testing and said officials are beginning to plan for winter months to ensure drive-through testing sites can continue to operate at optimum levels.

The state’s largest sites will be “winterized,” and additional sites are being scouted by the Iowa Department of Transportation and Iowa National Guard along with help of county emergency managers. The goal is to secure new sites within the next few weeks to stay ahead of the winter weather, she said.

The governor also noted the importance of clinic sites, which are partnerships between state and local health care providers in rural areas and smaller towns. Reynolds encouraged health care providers in such areas of Iowa to reach out to the governor’s office to request clinic sites in their communities.

Reynolds on the Big Ten decision

Asked about whether Johnson County and Iowa City would be able to meet the Big Ten’s host community requirements regarding COVID-19 positivity rates.

“I’m confident that we can get there and get that done,” Reynolds said, noting that she hadn’t seen the specifics yet.

She said positivity rates in those communities have begun trending downward.

“I think if we can continue to work together with the same goal, we’ll mee that criteria,” she said.

Decisions about fan attendance is made by the universities, she said, but said she was confident plans could be made to get fans at the games “if we think about how we do it.”

State labs to increase testing

The pandemic has been “very demanding of laboratory resources,” Dr. Michael Pentella, director of Iowa’s State Hygienic Laboratory.

The state hygenic lab processes 42% of COVID-19 tests in Iowa — “much more than any other lab serving our state,” Reynolds said, and is preparing to take on more testing.

“SHL is performing under the average about 5,000 COVID-19 tests per day,” including tests for medical personnel and antibody testing to determine past infections, Pantella said. Since March, the state’s molecular and Test Iowa labs are "fast approaching 500,000 combined” tests performed.

The labs are acquiring additional equipment that will allow thousands more tests to be executed in those labs daily, he said.

Governor reacts to Des Moines school board decision

Also on Wednesday, Reynolds offered sharp criticism of the Des Moines school board, which voted 4-3 on Tuesday night to prepare to implement a hybrid learning model.

Des Moines Public Schools is no closer to compliance with state law than they were before last night’s vote, which is, I think, unfortunate for the students,” she said.

When the district presented its hybrid plan July 1, it was close to being compliant, she said. “But instead of working with the Department of Education to get into compliance, the district went backwards.”

Reynolds said she was “disappointed” in the board’s decision, even though no start date for the plan has been determined, she said.

“There’s no clear sense of how or when that might happen," she said. “Only the district will determine when conditions are safe to do so using a set of metrics that appear to be designed to determine they don’t come back for in-person learning.”

All but one of the state’s 327 school districts have been able to develop a strong Return to Learn plan that follows the law, Reynolds said.

A court decision had “reaffirmed” details of the state’s Return to Learn plan, the governor said.

Watch Wednesday’s news conference

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