JOHNSTON, Iowa (AP) — Governor Kim Reynolds said Friday that she’s beginning the long process of reopening Iowa’s economy, even as the state reported a surge of more than 500 in the number of people with the coronavirus.
Reynolds said her first step was to allow elective surgeries and to allow farmers’ markets to open with some restrictions.
The state meanwhile reported 521 new cases of the coronavirus, taking the total to 4,445, and the number of people killed by the virus increased by 11 to 107.
Iowa is operating under a proclamation that closed much of the economy including shopping malls, theaters and retail businesses where crowds could gather. It limits gatherings to fewer than 10 people. Those statewide orders end next Thursday unless renewed by the governor.
Reynolds suggested she may allow some business to resume in parts of the state that haven’t been hit hard.
A significant increase in testing allows state officials to zero in on hot spots to focus on limiting the spread and to see where few cases exist, she said.
“All of that allows us to be very targeted in how we respond. It allows us to start to open up other areas where there are no cases or very few cases,” she said. “We’re probably not going to see a statewide release on some of these areas we’ll be opening up. They will be somewhat targeted and we’ll give you more information on that on Monday,”
Public health data shows 16 Iowa counties have reported no cases.
Reynolds has said recent increases in the number of positive cases are the result of more intense testing. One in 98 Iowans have been tested for the coronavirus, she said. However, the Iowa Department of Public Health said a peak in the number of coronavirus cases could still be weeks away.
“I think that what we can expect is that we are going to see our case counts continue to increase and the peak is only going to occur when our case counts start to come back down. That’s the definition of the peak and so I think as we get more access to testing and more people have the opportunity to go through that process I think we’ll see that happen here in the next two to three weeks,” said Sarah Reisetter, deputy director of IDPH.
The number of infections is likely much higher than has been reported because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without displaying symptoms.
Governors nationwide have struggled with when to reopen business as job losses mount causing soaring numbers of unemployment claims.
Georgia has reopened barber shops, nail salons, gyms and a few other businesses, and Oklahoma has followed a similar path. Tennessee also has outlined plans.
Public health experts warn that reopening too quickly could trigger a coronavirus resurgence. Preventing that will require more testing and robust tracking of infected people’s contacts.
Reynolds noted that 30% of people infected in Iowa work in manufacturing, mostly meatpacking. About 15% are health care workers, and Reynolds put out a call for nurses needed in nursing homes as demand for help has increased at long-term care centers. Thirteen long-term care facilities in Iowa have outbreaks.
Reynolds said the she considers the Opening Up America phased approach released by the Trump administration as a guideline. The proposal said phase one reopening should be considered after a state has seen a downward trajectory of cases over a 14-day period. Iowa’s cases continue to increase.
“We’re going to look at ways to start opening up, “she said. “It’s time.”