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COVID-19 in Iowa: One Year Later


DES MOINES, IOWA — 365 days ago, the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Iowa. After weeks of reports from around the world and across the nation of a growing threat from a new virus, Iowa recorded its first positive cases one year ago. Since then more than 367,000 more Iowans have tested positive for the virus. More than 5,550 Iowans have lost their lives to it.

On March 8th, 2020 the first positive tests for the coronavirus were reported in Iowa. Three Iowans tested positive that day. All three were part of a group of Iowans who’d taken part in an Egyptian cruise. Eventually more than a dozen members of that group would test positive for the virus.

That group was able to be tested in Iowa. Others were not as lucky. A Winterset couple found themselves being shuttled around the US to quarantine sites after an outbreak of the coronavirus was reported on their cruise ship days before the first positive test in Iowa. The Sirdoreus family was able to finally return home after more than a month spent in quarantine at a US military base. They never tested positive for the virus.

From there, as we all remember, things quickly spiraled out of control as the nation learned the coronavirus had already spread further than could be contained.

The Big Ten and Big 12 conferences canceled their postseason basketball tournaments on March 12th after they’d already begun. That was followed later in the day by the cancelation of the entire NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, the first major cancelation in the sports world caused by the coronavirus – but far from the last.

That same evening, March 12th, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency in response to the pandemic. That declaration made billions in funding available for states to improve their test capacities. While declaring the emergency, Trump warned against too many people being tested. His advice at the time on testing: “It’s totally unnecessary … this will pass.”

Iowa political leaders echoed Trump’s assurances that the coronavirus was under control. WHO 13 Political Director Dave Price spoke with Governor Kim Reynolds and US Senator Joni Ernst days before the first Iowa death was reported. Their recorded interview aired on The Insiders on the morning of March 8th, 2020. Senator Ernst praised President Trump for his initial travel ban. She told Iowans “as long as we’re taking simple measures to stay health, we should be okay.”

Unfortunately the world would soon learn that the virus was already spreading out of control and things would be far from “okay.” Governor Reynolds issued her first Public Health Disaster Emergency on March 17th. The first death attributed to the coronavirus in Iowa would be reported 16 days after the first positive cases. On March 24th, 2020 the state announced the death of an older resident of Dubuque County.


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