DES MOINES — On a day when Iowa had its highest numbers yet of new coronavirus-related cases and deaths, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced the first steps to re-open the state’s myriad closed businesses and amenities.
The state confirmed 521 new COVID-19 cases and 11 additional virus-related deaths Friday, including three in Black Hawk County and one in Bremer County. On Saturday, the state announced 648 positive cases for a total of 5,092 positive cases. It included one additional death for Black Hawk County.
There are now a total of 112 deaths due to the virus.
Also on Friday, Reynolds announced that starting Monday hospitals and clinics may resume conducting elective surgeries, and that farmers markets may operate, provided patrons practice safe social distancing measures. Both orders are effective statewide. In Waterloo, Mayor Quentin Hart announced Friday that the city’s public golf courses would reopen, as well as the Pat Bowlsby Memorial Dog Park and the Byrnes Park Tennis Center.
“This is our first step of many to re-opening Iowa and getting life and business back to normal as soon as possible,” Reynolds said during her daily briefing on the state’s pandemic response. She said she plans to announce more steps on Monday. “It will be done in a responsible and a safe manner, but we are at a place where it’s time to start having that discussion.”
The record one-day number of new cases is partially due to increased testing efforts by the state. More than 2,700 tests were processed Thursday; Reynolds said that is much higher than the state had been testing on a daily basis.
But Iowa also has experienced its two highest single-day death totals in the past week: 11 confirmed Friday and 10 confirmed on April 18.
Reynolds said that increased testing, in addition to expanded contact tracing and the rollout of the new Test Iowa program, is why she feels comfortable starting a gradual re-opening of the state. She said the testing will help the state identify areas where the virus is less disruptive, which will allow for a gradual, regional approach to re-opening businesses and amenities.
In addition, three area senior living facilities have announced they have positive COVID-19 cases among employees and at least one resident. A NewAldaya Lifescapes employee is being treated, as well as a Ravenwood Specialty Care employees. Three Western Home Communities employees have tested positive, and a resident has as well. CEO Kris Hansen said they believe the resident contracted the virus during an essential medical procedure outside of Western Home Communities. The resident is in isolation “we we believe this presents a low risk of exposure to employees because they’ve consistently worn a full complement of personal protective equipment while providing care,” he said.
The state public health department has divided the state into six regions and ranks the severity of the virus’ prevalence in each region on a 1-to-12 scale with 12 being the most severe. As of Friday, the northeast, southeast and south central regions all were rated a 9, while the northwest, southwest and north central regions were rated no higher than a 6.
As of Friday, nearly half — 46 percent — of all confirmed cases were in four eastern and central Iowa counties: Polk, Black Hawk, Linn and Johnson.
Meantime, the bottom 87 counties combined to account for just 17 percent of all cases, including 15 counties that remained without a single recorded case. Woodbury remains the only county in the western half of the state with at least 100 confirmed cases.
“While there are some areas in our state where virus activity is still high, we have many more areas where it’s manageable or even minimal. And this presents an opportunity to start to open Iowa back up in a phased and responsible manner,” Reynolds said during the briefing at the State Emergency Operations Center at Camp Dodge in Johnston.
Reynolds added she is ready to begin re-opening Iowa in part because the state has been able to avoid a rush on its health care system.
According to state figures, there were 278 patients hospitalized, 104 in intensive care and 60 on ventilators as of Friday. Meantime, the state has nearly 4,000 in-patient beds, more than 500 ICU beds and nearly 700 ventilators available.
The state continues its effort to acquire more protective equipment for health care workers — like face masks and shields, and gowns. And Reynolds on Friday invited nurses to volunteer to help staff at long-term care facilities, which are being hit by COVID-19 outbreaks throughout the state.
Todd Prichard, a state lawmaker and leader of the Iowa House Democrats, issued a statement after Reynolds’ briefing Friday saying the governor should make public the data and projections her administration is using to determine when and where it is safe to re-open Iowa businesses.
“Instead of sending mixed signals, the governor needs to provide clear leadership to bring Iowa out of this pandemic safely. The governor didn’t provide the information necessary today to demonstrate to Iowans that it is safe to loosen restrictions that prevent the spread of the coronavirus,” Prichard said in a news release. “We all want to re-open our economy and get life back to normal as quickly as possible. However, there is significant risk of more deaths, infections, and a prolonged economic downturn if restrictions are lifted too soon.”
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As the two major hospital systems in Black Hawk County find themselves on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic, they're at the same time on the frontlines of finding a possible treatment for the deadly respiratory illness.
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Reicks said he's appreciative of any help that would come his way. But, like many other industries upended from coronavirus, he has little indication of what the future may bring.
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Houses of worship can reopen in the whole state as long as they adhere to social distancing guidelines, the governor said.
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The country's largest meatpacking union, which represents 1.3 million workers in food and retail, said on a press call Thursday that more than a dozen of their members had died from COVID-19.
Omega Cabinetry is temporarily closing its Waterloo plant and putting employees on furlough until May 4. An employee recently tested positive for COVID-19.
Iowa is just shy of 4,000 recorded cases of coronavirus statewide, and just under 100 deaths, health officials announced Thursday.
Black Hawk County tallied one additional death for a total of four deaths and 379 cases, while Tama County added one death for a total of 225 cases and seven deaths.
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New coronavirus cases in Iowa as of April 22, 2020, per IDPH daily data.
"Tyson’s closing their plant will prove to be a positive step forward in preparing our community for the flattening the curve," said Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart.
Jim Orvis, of Waterloo, died Sunday after testing positive for the coronavirus. He had worked in the laundry department at Tyson Fresh Meats.
Gov. Kim Reynolds announced a high of 482 new positive cases of coronavirus and four new deaths on Tuesday, noting a third of the new cases were the result of more testing at the state’s meatpacking plants.
"I receive calls from folks that are terrified," the Rev. Belinda Creighton-Smith told the Black Hawk County Board of Health during an emergency meeting Tuesday morning.
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At least 42% of all positive cases of coronavirus in Black Hawk County are from Tyson Fresh Meats, local health officials said Monday.
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Tyson disputed accounts from employees and others who spoke about working conditions inside their Waterloo plant, saying no employees have moved between plants and additional cleaning and protective measures were indeed in place.
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State health officials announced four new deaths Wednesday, as well as a seventh outbreak in a long-term care facility.
A UNI professor wanted to lend a helping hand to residents and staff of nursing homes so she launched the Nursing Home Art Box Project.
The Iowa Economic Development Authority has provided more than $935,000 to help 50 small Black Hawk County businesses suffering from the COVID-19 health crisis.
Clarksville pastor Val Swinton, after being hospitalized 21 days with COVID-19, has recovered to the point that he will return home Wednesday.
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A beef processing plant in one of Iowa's coronavirus hot spots has suspended production after several workers have become infected.
For the first time in Black Hawk County, a child tested positive for coronavirus.
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The state recorded 122 new cases of coronavirus and three new deaths, while Black Hawk County added another six cases on Saturday.
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A case of the coronavirus was discovered in Bartels Lutheran Retirement Community, and that resident is now in the hospital, administrators of the facility said.
"Simply put, the number of cases in Black Hawk County is increasing," she said. "This is the start of a surge we have been preparing for."
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A new high of 125 new cases of coronavirus were announced Thursday, along with 2 deaths in Linn County.
Knutson and other florists are feeling the impact in sales, particularly now with Easter lilies.
"In what felt like the blink of an eye, everything had changed.”
Officials at Pillar of Cedar Valley Nursing and Rehabilitation said Wednesday their facility has gone more than two weeks with no other cases.
Statewide, Iowa added 97 new cases, bringing the total to 1,145. There was one new death --- an elderly adult in Linn County, bringing the state total to 27.
Districts have until Friday to submit plans to the state on the voluntary enrichment or credit classes they'll offer, much of which will require or include online components.
Details weren’t available, but fire officials said they don’t believe the department member contracted the virus while dealing with the public on the job.
The Black Hawk County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 Tuesday against a resolution.
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Divided opinions across Iowa over Gov. Kim Reynolds not issuing a shelter-in-place order were on display Monday in the differing decisions made by two Cedar Valley city councils.
With just 12 positive cases, Black Hawk County continued to have a low rate of coronavirus infection relative to other counties in the state so far, but health officials warned that residents needed to continue following social distancing guidelines.
Clarksville pastor Val Swinton, hospitalized with COVID-19, has improved enough to start being weaned off of a ventilator, according to his son.
The worker at Winding Creek Meadows tested positive on Saturday.
The governor reiterated her refusal to order a shelter-in-place was "data driven" as she announced 78 new positive cases of coronavirus in Iowa and three new deaths on Monday.
The state's death toll now stands at 22.
The Cedar Falls City Council will consider a resolution Monday urging Gov. Reynolds to implement stricter guidelines on people's movements in the face of the coronavirus threat.
Martin Culpepper, a Waterloo East High School graduate, is now a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology working with a team that developed a rapid manufacturing process for face shields needed in the fight against coronavirus.
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With a population of a little more than 17,000, the number infected translates to 0.09% of the population in Tama County.
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An employee of the John Deere Foundry Operation in Waterloo tested positive for coronavirus on Wednesday, Deere and Co. officials said Thursday.
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Black Hawk County has its first case of community spread of coronavirus, raising the response level from "elevated" to "moderate," officials said Tuesday.
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Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson had "several" conversations with organizations and groups about their failure to abide the large gathering rules.
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The fourth death came out of Linn County.
"Our incident command center has been in the process for weeks for all the what-ifs. We are preparing for a surge we hope doesn’t happen.”
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The superintendents of Waterloo and Cedar Falls schools said they were hoping that they would get a week's notice if Reynolds decided to extend the time that public schools would not be in session.
The Iowa Department of Public Health announced the 34 new cases just before noon Thursday.
The Cedar Valley's educational and manufacturing community are stepping up to produce face shield and other items desperately needed by medical providers battling the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s not needed right now, with Iowans observing voluntary restrictions, she says
Black Hawk County officials will begin "a series of meetings" to prepare for a shelter-in-place scenario absent any statewide shutdowns.
"I was thinking, if I had it, I would feel it by now -- I was relatively asymptomatic. I was stunned."
Dr. Alex Ulfers is a 2007 graduate of Cedar Falls High School.
The couple have done live workouts on Facebook at 4:30 p.m.
Black Hawk County has one new positive case of coronavirus, with local health officials saying it was not related to the other three cases but was travel-related, meaning the county currently had no documented community spread as of Tuesday.
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"We are two people who never met, but who are trying our best to make a bad situation better for people."
Waterloo Schools started its "grab-n-go" meal program Monday for children 18 and younger while Cedar Falls Schools is starting its food distribution effort Tuesday.
"We do not, I repeat, we do not want to end up taking people to jail on criminal complaints because of a unwillingness to follow the governor's proclamation," said Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson.
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Iowa Department of Health spokesperson Amy McCoy told The Courier on Wednesday the case is a person over 81 years of age.
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"We're not just going to test everybody," said Black Hawk County's public health director. "(People) might make assumptions. But the symptoms of COVID-19 are very similar to other respiratory illnesses."
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