JOHNSTON — Due to a shortage of personal protective equipment for health care workers, Iowa public health officials have issued a new order meant to stretch supplies.
The directive allows health care providers to use or reuse equipment like masks and gowns beyond its “shelf life,” not change the gear between patient visits, prioritize face masks for essential activities, discharge COVID-19 patients once they’re stable and consider alternatives to medical-grade equipment, like using homemade masks in combination with face shields, according to Sarah Reisetter, deputy director of the Iowa Department of Public Health.
The order comes as the state reported 122 new cases of coronavirus and three new deaths Saturday, while Black Hawk County added another six cases.
Black Hawk County reported 14 cases Friday, its highest number yet.
There have been 41 cases confirmed in the county.
Iowa’s total number of coronavirus cases stands at 1,510 with 34 deaths, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health.
The three deaths Saturday included an adult between the ages of 61 and 80 in Crawford County, an adult older than 81 in Johnson County, and an adult between the ages of 61 and 80 in Madison County.
The new Black Hawk County cases included three adults between the ages of 18 and 40, and three adults between the ages of 61 and 80.
Tama County recorded seven new cases Saturday — three adults 18-40 years, three adults 41-60 years and one adult 61-80 years — a now has a total of 77 cases.
The state also announced one case in Bremer County of an adult older than 81. That was likely the confirmed case at Bartels Lutheran Retirement Community announced Friday.
Fourteen residents at a Cedar Rapids nursing home that has been at the center of the coronavirus pandemic in Iowa have died, the home’s owner confirmed Saturday.
Sixty residents at Heritage Specialty Care and 30 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Care Initiatives, a nonprofit that owns the home. That represents roughly half the residents and a quarter of the staff at the facility.
Of the 60 infected residents, 14 have recovered and another 14 have died as of Friday, Care Initiatives said in a statement.
Linn County leads the state with 235 confirmed cases as of Saturday, followed by Johnson County at 194 and Polk County at 163.
The new PPE order issued Friday by Dr. Caitlin Pedati, the state’s medical director and epidemiologist, also provides new legal immunity for hospitals and other facilities that make a “a good-faith effort” to get face masks and other protective equipment.
“We understand the issuance of this order may be unsettling, but due to the global shortage of PPE supply we’ve determined that now is the time to take this action,” Reisetter said.
“Unfortunately, we’re in a position where — like many states and countries across the globe — we are preparing for a time when we might not have enough of these supplies.”
Gov. Kim Reynolds reassured Iowans that cases of the coronavirus are “plateauing” even though Friday’s count included 118 new cases.
“When we started this week I told Iowans that it would be a difficult one, and it has been,” the governor said Friday. But she also pointed to “reassuring signs” by noting 14,565 Iowans have tested negative for the virus — including 862 in the latest report — and that 36 percent, or 506 Iowans, have recovered from the virus. Friday, 119 Iowans remained hospitalized.
Reynolds said trend lines show “we’re doing the right thing, but our work is not yet done.”
Health Department metrics expected a climb in daily COVID-19 case numbers, Reisetter said, but she added that “onset of symptoms data” had flattened “and that’s really the whole goal of public health mitigation efforts is to see a flattening so that we have a flat plateau of illness and infection. The ideal goal would be to avoid ever really seeing a peak and a spike in cases.”
The state has not shared with the public details of the metrics health officials are using to assert the curve is flattening, though reporters have repeatedly asked.
Reisetter said a projected medical gear shortage was not being created by Iowa’s surge in new cases of COVID-19 — the potentially deadly respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus — that have overwhelmed health care systems in other states.
“Today’s order isn’t a reflection of an increased spike in cases. Today’s order is an acknowledgment that PPE supplies are low globally as well as in the United States, and so the order gives guidance and direction to health care providers to the extent that they can’t get the PPE that they would normally use to provide the standard of care that they normally provide,” she said.
Reynolds praised Iowa businesses, residents and prisoners for “stepping up” to help produce needed equipment for health care workers across the state.
“We’ve had an all-hands-on-deck, all-of-the-above approach,” the governor said.
James Q. Lynch of The Gazette Des Moines Bureau and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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