COVID-19 numbers stabilize while more restrictions are lifted

Iowans can get a haircut as Governor Kim Reynolds lifted restrictions on businesses in Iowa while the number of COVID-19 cases start to level statewide.

On Wednesday, May 13, Governor Reynolds issued a new proclamation to continue the Public Health Disaster Emergency.

The proclamation extended the ongoing closures and public health measures, including the restriction on gatherings of more than ten people, through May 27. However, it did allow salons, barbershops, and massage and tattoo parlors to re-open across Iowa with limited restrictions. Like other re-opening businesses, salons and barbershops must abide by social distancing rules that limit their capacity to 50% of the maximum legal occupancy, ensure that customers stay six feet apart from each other and frequently clean. These businesses must also operate on an appointment-only basis to keep people out of the waiting area.

In addition, the proclamation allows the re-opening of restaurants, fitness centers, libraries, and race tracks in the 22 hardest hit counties.

Bars, theaters, casinos, senior centers, amusement parks, museums, skating rinks, playgrounds, swimming pools, and door-to-door sales, among others, continue to be closed across the state through May 27.

There are concerns that opening businesses too early may incite a second wave of the virus, however Governor Reynolds is confident that the state’s hospital system can withstand the spread of the virus without becoming overburdened.

As of Sunday, May 17, there were 376 hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the state, with 124 in ICU. Roughly half of the state’s inpatient beds and three quarters of the state’s ICU beds are available, along with more than 700 available ventilators.

Also as of Sunday, there have been 14,651 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state, increasing the 11,959 total from the week prior by 22%. This marks the second week that the number of new cases has increased by roughly 2,700 people.

Eastern Iowa is still the hotbed of the outbreak, but while the number of cases in that area are starting to go down, they are being counterbalanced by a spike in activity in central Iowa, particularly the Des Moines area.

Last week also set a new high for COVID-19 related deaths. An additional 86 deaths were attributed to the virus, bringing the total death count to 351. Of the fatal cases, approximately 163 have been elderly (age 80+), 143 have been older adults (61-80), 35 have been middle aged adults (41-60), and seven have been young adults (18-40).

More than half of the deaths attributed to COVID-19 involve people in long term health facilities, which remain particularly vulnerable to the virus. With seven new outbreaks being reported last week, the total number of outbreaks in long term facilities has reached 37. There are now 1,387 positive cases of COVID-19 among staff and residents of long term care facilities, still accounting for roughly 9% of the state’s total cases.

Testing capacity is expected to rise as TestIowa finally achieved validation.

Though concerns have been raised about the accuracy of similar programs in other states, TestIowa’s tests have been validated by the state hygienic lab with 95% accuracy in finding positive cases and 99.7% accuracy in finding negative cases.

“Now that the lab has completed the validation process, we expect more tests will be processed more quickly and your results will be delivered on a more timely basis,” said Reynolds.

With additional test sites opening last week in Waterloo, Davenport, and Ottumwa, Reynolds hopes that the state’s capacity for testing will soon reach its goal of 5,000 people per day.

With more than 400,000 assessments completed at TestIowa.com, demand for testing still greatly exceeds supply. Testing continues to be prioritized for people at high risk for infection and in areas were the virus is already known to be spreading.

“Expanding testing in a targeted way such as this helps us confirm how the virus is spreading,” said Reynolds. “While it drives our positive case count up for the short term, more importantly it informs us how to effectively manage virus activity in the long term.”

Testing measures will continue to expand as the virus makes its way through the state, with targeted testing continuing to focus on areas with increasing activity.

“We know that virus activity will exist in our communities until a vaccine is available,” said Reynolds. “But through expanded and targeted testing, case investigation and tracing, and by continuing to take preventive measures to protect our own health and the health of others, I believe that we can and will be able to contain and manage the virus and balance the health of Iowans with the health of our economy.”