Good afternoon, I think we’ll go ahead and get started and I think I'll state the obvious again — this is an unprecedented time for our state and our nation. Within the course of one week, we’ve learned of the first positive cases of COVID-19 in Iowans, identified community spread, implemented mitigation strategies including school closures to protect the health and safety of all Iowans. We are monitoring the situation in real time and making evidence-based decisions to mitigate and slow the spread of the virus. Our efforts are focused on preventing a sudden spike in positive cases that could overwhelm our health care system and cause other significant impacts to the state.
Last night I recommended that Iowa schools close for four weeks. This recommendation is driven by evidence-based guidelines from our federal partners at the CDC as well as just great 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 — spreading it in the community. 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. These variables, along with community spread metrics, were important factors in our decision-making process. Other substantial community spread was confirmed — it was time for the next phase of response and mitigation. We know that closing schools has a ripple effect for Iowa’s families, businesses, and our workforce. And I understand that many families are concerned about how to care for their children and continue to go to work. Childcare plays a key role in supporting Iowa’s ability to continue essential functions. My staff is working hand-in-hand with the Department of Education, the Department of Human Services and the Department of Public Health to put policies in place that ensure continued access to child care during this time. And 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 that we can quickly ramp up child care capacities. Many low-income families who rely on meal programs in their schools are worried about how they will feed the children at home. Iowa has already applied for and received a USDA waiver to allow schools to continue serving meals upon closure. Schools will be able to activate their summer meal programs and provide meals in non-group settings such as drive through pick up or a grab and go. The Department of Education is working with school districts now on these details and schools will provide more information to families soon. The Legislature will be considering — and I will sign if passed — legislation to waive the instructional time requirement for any time missed while schools are temporarily closed during the next four weeks until April 12th of 2020. That legislation will also provide me the authority to waive this requirement for a longer period of time if we determine that that becomes necessary.
Today the Iowa Department of Public Health has confirmed one additional positive case of COVID-19 in a resident of Dallas County. The number of positive cases of COVID-19 is increasing across the country and the same will occur here — especially now that we have confirmed substantial community spread. Today a second shift is being added to the State Hygienic Lab to expand our testing capabilities. Our daily capacity for running tests will now increase from 54 to 108 tests per day. When the situation warrants, we are ready at that point to add a third shift so that we can run tests around the clock. National labs have also begun running tests from Iowa and these labs are required to report all positive test results to the Iowa State Hygienic Lab and those numbers will be included in our daily updates. However, we will not know the number of Iowa tests pending at the National lab or the number of the negative test results. Because the information available to the State Hygienic Lab and the Department of Public 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 known risk factors or contact information related to the positive cases.
Today has been another very full day here at the State Emergency Operations Center. This morning I held a meeting with all state agency directors where I was updated on their mitigation plans to protect the Iowans they serve and their operational plans to ensure business continuity. Later my team met with Iowa’s health systems and other provider organizations to discuss their readiness to serve those who will become ill due to COVID-19. I’m encouraged by the one team approach they are taking together to ensure Iowans will have the care that they need and deserve when the time calls for it. And we’re going to continue to work closely with the team and stand ready to assist them with their needs as we move forward. We’re continuing to work with other businesses and industries to discuss how the state can help ensure that Iowa remains open for business.
Also, today I joined other governors for a call with President Trump as well as Vice President Pence and their team for an update on COVID-19 mitigation efforts at the federal level. The President has met with the grocery industry and he just ensures us that stores will stay open and he asked that stores will stay open and he asks that all Americans shop for their weekly needs, allowing stores to keep the items in stock so everyone can purchase essentials for their family. We also had a call with our grocery industry on Saturday and they indicated the same thing — you know — we’re coordinating efforts there to make sure that we can get the commodities out to the locations so that Iowans will be served. He also shared that more testing capabilities are being rolled out across the country. The President encouraged all Americans to again practice social distancing to stay ahead of the curve with the virus. And I am also calling upon each and every Iowan to be an active part of our statewide mitigation strategy. You really can make a difference. Now is a critical time when we can mitigate and slow the spread of the virus in our state, but it takes all of us working together and to do the right things to make that happen. So, I just urge all of you to follow the CDC guidelines and take preventative measures to protect your health as well as the health of others. Wash your hands frequently, cover your coughs, clean frequently touched surfaces daily, avoid crowds, consider staying home as much as possible — especially if you are of a vulnerable population with underlying conditions — avoid all non-essential air travel and especially cruises, and most importantly, if you are sick stay home and call your doctor first before going in for an appointment — they will run you through an assessment and help get you the information that you need. These steps may seem too simple to combat a worldwide pandemic but they are the most important things that we can do right now to mitigate the virus and to slow its spread in our state.
Finally, I know that there is a feeling of uncertainty as the situation continues to unfold and as I continue to say, we just need to remain calm, we need to stay informed, and please be vigilant about your health and the health of your families, friends, neighbors, and fellow Iowans. And so, with that we will get through this together and of course I will continue to keep you updated as more information comes in. And with that we’ll go ahead and open it for questions. I will say, because a lot of different areas are being impacted, I have several of my directors at the various agencies with me today and so if there are specific questions, I may ask them to come to the podium and address your question.
Reyonlds, K.K. [DMRegister]. (2020, March 16). Gov. Kim Reynolds updates Iowans on the COVID-19 outbreak in Iowa (3.16.20) [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z3q2GXwKlQA&t=357s]. Retrieved on April 4, 2020 from https://www.youtube.com/user/DMRegister.