Iowa ‘not quite’ in need of a stay-at-home order

Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks at a news conference on the state's COVID-19 response on March 23, 2020. (Pool photo courtesy of The Des Moines Register)

Iowa officials said Monday that an analysis of the latest data on the spread of COVID-19 indicates the state is “not quite” at the point where a stay-at-home order is needed.

At a press conference Monday, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and public health officials said they’re relying on hospitalization data to indicate if, and when, a stay-at-home or shelter-in-place order is necessary.

Reynolds said state officials are constantly reviewing and re-evaluating that data.

“We had a group that was working on that last night and continued to work on it through the day,” she said. “We want to make sure we make these decisions based on data and based on metrics so that we can be consistent in what we’re telling Iowans — to make sure that we’re not shutting down a state where we don’t need to. So we need to be factual, we need to be reasonable and we need to be consistent in the message that we’re providing Iowans.”

Asked exactly what sort of data the state is relying on to make sure it’s staying ahead of the situation, Sarah Reisetter, the deputy director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, said there is “a range of information” that is being collected and analyzed.

“They include things like rate of hospitalizations for patients who might test positive, length of hospital stays for those patients, the average age of a population in a certain area, certainly the density of a population,” she said. “As we have done all along throughout this response, as soon as the Department of Public Health comes across information and reaches a conclusion that more aggressive community-mitigation requirements or guidelines are necessary, we will advise Gov. Reynolds about that immediately.

“And so we just — we haven’t quite gotten there yet,” Reisetter said. “And we hope that by people just staying home, especially when they’re ill, that we will be able to prevent some of those more strict mitigation measures. But we’re prepared to make that recommendation when the data shows us that it’s time.”

Asked what sites in Iowa, such as hotels, have been identified to assist with hospitals in case they are overwhelmed, Reynolds said, “They are working through all of that. We have a team in place that is working, really focusing on what we see might be some hot spots across the state so that we make sure we can stand them up in the areas that need to be stood up. But those kinds of discussions and decisions are taking place throughout the day so that we have the right response in place should we ever get to that place.”

Reynolds announces small business grants, tax relief

Reynolds also announced that the state is launching a $4 million effort to assist small businesses with grants and tax relief tied to COVID-19 losses.

The grants will range from $5,000 to $25,000 and be made available to companies with two to 25 employees. Also, the Iowa Department of Revenue has automatically extended the sales- and withholding-tax deadlines for any business that receives a grant, and it will consider an extension for any business that applies for a grant.

Also, Iowa Workforce Development will allow businesses with fewer than 50 employees to delay, until July 31, their unemployment-tax payments for the first quarter of the year.

“These three actions will provide some much-needed relief for struggling small businesses, as well as some help with cash flow,” Reynolds said.

Jerry Akers, a Cedar Rapids-based business owner who employs 200 people at 27 Great Clips salons across Iowa and Nebraska, closed all of his stores Sunday in the wake of an order that temporarily shutters such establishments.

Akers said while his employees can file for unemployment, he’s relying on government assistance that would allow him to continue to provide benefits like health insurance.

In its present state, the governor’s new plan for small businesses may be of little use to Akers due to the size of his company, but he’s hoping for more initiatives aimed at helping small businesses. Without them, he said, “you will see a huge loss of small business in the state of Iowa.”

The Iowa Economic Development Authority will review grant applications for eligibility and will determine the amount of the grant by considering the loss in sales revenue and employees. The dual application for grant assistance and tax deferral is available at The deadline for applications is noon, March 31.

Earlier Friday, the state reported an additional 15 new, confirmed cases COVID-19, bringing the total to 105 cases in 26 Iowa counties. As of Sunday evening, seven of the confirmed cases were hospitalized.

Reporter Linh Ta contributed to this story.

Clark Kauffman
Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.