Gov. Kim Reynolds, left, holds a news conference on the state’s response to coronavirus. (Photo by Kathie Obradovich/Iowa Capital Dispatch)
Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office announced five new cases of coronavirus late Tuesday afternoon, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in Iowa to 13.
All but one of the 13 Iowans who have tested positive for coronavirus are Johnson County residents who were on a cruise to Egypt along with nine other Iowans, Gov. Kim Reynold said Tuesday. The Iowa Department of Public Health has been in contact with all 21 Iowans who “traveled as a group” for the cruise and all are isolating themselves at home and being monitored by public health officials, she said.
Earlier Tuesday, Reynolds said public health investigators had determined the first eight people who tested positive as of Monday had limited interaction in their communities and did not attend any large public events. “So the potential risk to others is considered low,” she said at her weekly news conference.
One of the cases confirmed Monday was a Pottawattamie County resident between the ages of 40 and 60 who recently traveled to California and is recovering at home, Reynolds said.
Eighteen more Iowans were quarantined on the Grand Princess cruise ship that docked Monday in California. They have not shown any virus symptoms, and will soon be returning to Iowa and will be isolated in their homes.
Reynolds said the Iowans who had been on the Grand Princess ship would be screened for the virus before taking a flight to Iowa chartered by the federal government. They would be screened again upon arrival and then voluntarily isolated in their homes in various towns around the state for 14 days. The governor did not disclose which towns had residents on the ship. Four other Iowans who were on the Grand Princess cruise are not returning to Iowa at this time, the governor said.
One passenger who had been aboard the 3,500-passenger cruise ship died of the COVID-19 virus last week. Nineteen crew members and two passengers on the ship tested positive, according to media reports.
“The reality is that COVID-19 is now here and we can expect the number of tests and the number of positive cases will continue to increase,” Reynolds said. She said Iowa’s experience is consistent with what officials from other states are reporting across the country.
Reynolds said she participated in a recent teleconference with Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the federal coronavirus response, and other federal officials. Iowa can expect about $6.35 million from the federal government by early April to assist with coronavirus containment and mitigation, according to the governor’s office. Reynolds did not rule out a legislative supplemental appropriation but said she isn’t requesting one at this stage. More federal dollars are also expected.
She said all major insurers in Iowa, including Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, Medicaid, Medicare, Aetna, UnitedHealthcare and Medica, would waive co-pays and cost shares for the costs of coronavirus testing and members of those health plans also have access to telehealth.
She said the state had been in touch with all 400 nursing homes and long-term care facilities in Iowa to make sure they had protocols in place to prevent and contain the virus, and she was scheduled to meet with hospital officials later Tuesday.
The advice to Iowans remains the same: Wash hands frequently, stay home if you’re ill, cover your coughs and sneezes. Older Iowans and those with underlying health conditions, who are at greater risk for the virus, should consider avoiding large gatherings. Consider whether travel is really necessary, especially to places where the virus has been reported. Those who feel ill and have a fever should call their doctor or the Department of Public Health before going to the doctor’s office to help contain the spread of the virus.
State universities move toward plan for virtual instruction
The Iowa Board of Regents announced Tuesday it is asking the three state universities – Iowa State, University of Iowa and University of Northern Iowa – to develop the ability “as quickly as possible” to deliver instruction virtually.
“It is important for students, faculty and staff to prepare for this eventuality this week prior to spring break,” according to a writtten statement from Regents President Mike Richards.
The universities will provide specific information no later than 8 a.m. March 12, the Regents’ release stated.
The universities announced last week they were canceling international travel for students, including study abroad programs for 30 days. Richards said that period will be reviewed weekly and extended by seven days each Monday “until conditions improve.” Each university is making its own decisions related to university-sponsored domestic travel. But the Regents recommend that those trips avoid areas with high numbers of identified cases of COVID-19.
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