Reynolds rejects calls for a stay-at-home order, citing Iowa infection data

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds updates the state's response to the coronavirus during a news conference at the State Emergency Operations Center, March 24, 2020, in Johnston, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, pool)

Gov. Kim Reynolds pushed back Tuesday against suggestions from Iowa mayors that she issue a shelter-in-place order for Iowa.

Earlier this week, Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie urged Reynolds to issue a statewide order keeping Iowans in their homes to minimize the spread of COVID-19. Officials in Cedar Rapids have said Iowans are not doing enough to practice social distancing and suggested a shelter-in-place order would help minimize the risk of hospitals becoming overwhelmed when the number of COVID-19 cases spikes as expected in a few weeks.

Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart said a local shelter-in-place order had been considered, but added that city- and county-based orders would likely create “mass confusion,” and so any such order should be statewide and come from the governor.

As of Tuesday, 16 states, including Illinois and Wisconsin, had issued shelter-in-place orders. Those orders generally require people to stay at home except for essential tasks such as grocery shopping or seeing the doctor.

At a press conference Tuesday, Reynolds said she believes her approach of relying on a set of metrics related to reported hospitalizations and infections is the best approach and at present, she said, those numbers don’t indicate that ordering Iowans to remain in their homes is necessary.

“I appreciate what they are saying and I am taking it very seriously,” she said, referring to Cedar Rapids officials. “I will continue to make decisions based on the metrics we have laid out.”

She noted that state public health officials have “walked through“ their data with Cedar Rapids officials and explained their decision-making process to city leaders.

“They sent some information that they were operating off of to our office yesterday, and it is completely changed from what it was yesterday,” Reynolds said. “So it is fluid, the information is changing almost on a daily basis, and we will continue to monitor it from that perspective.”

Reynolds said she doesn’t “want Iowans to think I am making these decisions lightly, but I have to be consistent in using the data that I am using in making the decisions that I am making.”

The data that Reynolds refers to is collected and analyzed by the Iowa Department of Public Health, which then makes recommendations to the governor on what sort of mitigation strategies are called for at the moment.

It’s not clear, however, what numerical threshold must be crossed before a shelter-in-place order would be deemed appropriate by the department.

Sarah Reisetter, the deputy director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, said the data that’s being analyzed includes the percentage of COVID-19 positive cases who are over the age of 65, the percentage of positive cases requiring hospitalization, the rate of infection in the past 14 days, and the number of outbreaks in long-term care or congregate settings.

“Taking all of that information together, we would assess that, and if we feel like, in combination, there is a concern, that would be the point in time which we would reach out locally and also make a recommendation to the governor that we think additional mitigation strategies might be necessary,” Reisetter said. “It’s important to understand that sheltering in place for two or three weeks will not cause the coronavirus to go away.”

The Iowa Department of Public Health reported 19 additional positive cases of Iowans with COVID-19 on Tuesday, for a total of 124 positive cases.

There have been a total of 2,315 negative tests to date, which includes testing reported by the State Hygienic Lab and other labs.

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.