JOHNSTON — As Iowa reported a grim record 19 coronavirus-related deaths in a 24-hour period, Gov. Kim Reynolds appeared to signal the state has passed its peak of the disease and is moving into the “recovery phase” of responding to the pandemic.
Iowa eclipsed another milestone Tuesday by topping 10,000 confirmed novel coronavirus cases, with most of the 408 new positives in that 10,111 total reported in the state’s highest risk areas — with 261 alone in Polk and Woodbury counties.
And the state announced nearly 1,400 workers at three Tyson Foods pork processing plants in Iowa have tested positive for the coronavirus.
The Iowa Department of Public Health revealed for the first time the state’s largest workplace outbreak has been at the Tyson plant in Perry in central Iowa, where 730 workers were confirmed to have the virus.
The department didn’t release the number of workers who died at the plants, but The Associated Press has confirmed at least six.
The 19 deaths reported Tuesday also occurred in the highest risk areas — in eight of the 22 counties still under the state’s most stringent restrictions designed to control COVID-19 outbreaks:
- Six deaths in Linn County: Five people between 61 and 80 and one between 41 and 60.
- Three deaths in Black Hawk County: One person between 41 and 60, one between 61 and 80 and one 81 or older. Black Hawk County now has reported 1,570 cases and 19 deaths as of Tuesday morning.
- Three deaths in Tama County: Three people age 81 or older.
- Two deaths in Polk County: One person between 61 and 80 and one 81 or older.
- Two deaths in Dallas County: One person between 61 and 80 and another 81 or older.
- Three total deaths in other counties: One person between 61 and 80 in Allamakee County, one person 81 or older in Jasper County and one person 81 or older in Woodbury County.
So far, 207 Iowans have died from the respiratory illness first reported March 8 in the state. Of that total, 95 people — nearly 46 percent — were 81 or older even though they make up about 5 percent of the people who have tested positive for the disease.
Another 83 victims were in the 61-80 age range, while 24 were between the ages of 41 and 60 and five were younger than age 18. Tuesday’s report of 19 deaths topped the previous single-day high of 14 reported April 29.
The state has reported outbreaks in 28 long-term health care facilities with 56 percent of Iowa deaths associated with such centers.
Also Tuesday, state health officials made public for the first time the names of five businesses — including four meat-processing facilities — where more than 10 percent of the workforce has confirmed COVID-19 cases.
- At Tyson Fresh Meats in Waterloo, 444 workers have tested positive for the virus, or 17% of its workforce.
- In Tama, 258 workers at Iowa Premium National Beef tested positive, or 39% of the workforce.
- At Tyson’s plant in Perry, 730 workers are infected, 58 of the workforce. It’s Columbus Junction plant recorded 221 cases, 26% of its workers.
- The fifth outbreak disclosed Tuesday is at the TPI Composite factory in Newton where 131 workers are infected, 13 percent of its workforce.
“The virus spreads very quickly and efficiently in settings where people live and work closely together. We’re seeing that trend play out in Iowa,” said Sarah Reisetter, deputy director of the state’s public health agency.
The state epidemiologist has determined it’s necessary to release information when infection rates or absenteeism surpasses 10 percent at a facility “such as a congregate setting in which social distancing is impossible or impracticable, including but not limited to meatpacking plants, food and beverage processing plants, factories with production lines and warehouses,” Reisetter said.
State Auditor Rob Sand, who recently issued an advisory indicating the federal Health Information Portability and Accountability Act law did not prevent such aggregate data disclosures, applauded Tuesday’s decision to name Iowa businesses with major outbreaks.
“I am glad to see packing plants’ outbreak numbers made public, but disappointed it took weeks after I called for it and nine days after we issued an official advisory,” Sand said in a statement. “We should never see a corporation or a public official claiming that HIPAA justifies withholding the big picture from the public.”
Reynolds said state health officials are watching trends on a daily basis and conducting testing to “really start to drill in” and take mitigation steps to “get in front of it before we see a significant spike.”
But she expected the phased and limited reopening she started last Friday in 77 counties to continue, even though some of those counties have seen an upward tick in confirmed cases.
“Iowans are seeing their livelihood just destroyed, so we have to manage all of that. You can’t just look in isolation — you have to balance all of that when you’re making decisions,” the governor said.
“I believe in Iowans. I trust Iowans to do the right thing. There are going to be a few outliers, that’s with anything,” she said. “Together we’re going to move through this, and we’re going to start to open our economy, we’re going to get Iowans back to work and we’re going to get to the other side of this.”
Reynolds attributed much of the recent spike in Iowa’s confirmed cases to more aggressive testing and surveillance efforts while noting the positive cases are starting to decline — even in eastern Iowa — telling reporters that “they’ve kind of hit the peak and now they’re starting to trend down.”
“As (Iowa National Guard Adjutant General Benjamin) Corell says, ‘We’re fishing where the fish are,’” Reynolds said, “so it’s no wonder our daily case counts have grown over the last few weeks.”
Overall, the governor said 60,569 Iowans have been tested — about one out of every 52 — with 50,458 having negative results and 3,522 who tested positive having recovered.
As of Tuesday, 407 Iowans were hospitalized for coronavirus-related illnesses or symptoms with 152 in intensive care units and 94 requiring the use of ventilators to assist their breathing.
Iowa is employing a number of testing approaches including its Test Iowa program that has assessed more than 306,000 registrants who provided information at testiowa.com. Drive-through testing sites in Des Moines, Waterloo and Sioux City have opened for those receiving appointments. A site also is set to open soon in Cedar Rapids.
Reynolds told reporters she planned to travel by private plane — paid for with campaign funds — this week to Washington to meet with President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and other administration officials to provide an update on what’s happening in Iowa and to thank them for federal assistance. She said other governors have been invited for similar meetings.