DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Pressure from medical experts and politicians mounted Thursday on Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds to issue a statewide stay-at-home order, despite her repeated insistence that such a move isn’t necessary.
Governors in most states have issued such an order, but Reynolds has argued that data shows the move isn’t needed in Iowa even though she has imposed other restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
State public health officials reported Thursday that there were 66 new cases in Iowa of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. That brought the state’s total count to 614 and 11 deaths, including two new ones that happened in Linn County.
Iowa Workforce Development officials also announced Thursday that there were 58,453 claims for unemployment insurance filed last week, a galling figure that came a week after Iowans filed 42,000 claims. Before the virus hit Iowa, jobless claims typically were around 2,200 a week.
One of the most outspoken critics of Iowa’s approach to fighting the outbreak has been Eli Percenevich, an epidemiologist and physician who oversees a group of researchers studying infection prevention at the University of Iowa and Iowa City’s VA Hospital.
He has called on Reynolds to issue a shelter-in-place order, saying many Iowans aren’t getting the message that they need to stay home.
“Many citizens are hearing that as if they don’t need to shelter at home and maybe only certain people do like older people,” he said. “The messaging really needs to improve. Until all of us take this seriously it’s going to be a longer process for us to come out of our current social distancing interventions.”
Percenevich said the metrics used by the Iowa Department of Public Health to recommend stricter or relaxed social distancing interventions are inadequate. The agency has said that those factors include the percentage of older people infected, the number of hospitalizations, the rate of cases over the last 14 days and outbreaks in long-term care centers.
“By the time you are waiting for specific disease metrics that are not targeting exponential spread, you are many weeks behind the virus,” he said. “You are intervening too late.”
Governors in more than three dozen states have issued statewide stay-at-home orders.
Asked Wednesday about whether she would follow suit, Reynolds deflected, pointing to steps she has taken to close businesses and restrict gatherings but saying she thinks that it’s ultimately up to individuals to choose wisely.
“I can’t lock the state down,” the Republican governor said.
Democratic legislative leaders joined the call for Reynolds to issue a statewide stay-at-home order. In a letter released Thursday, state Sen. Janet Petersen and state Rep. Todd Prichard said such an order would send a clearer message about the serious nature of the pandemic.
Democratic Iowa Congresswomen Abby Finkenauer and Cindy Axne said they also have sent Reynolds letters calling on her to issue such an order.
For most people, COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are among those particularly susceptible to more severe illness, including pneumonia.