Reynolds grows emotional at the toll of COVID-19 on Iowans

Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks at a news conference March 27, 2020, in Johnson about the state's COVID-19 response. (Pool photo by Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Des Moines Register)

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds grew emotional at a press conference Friday as she discussed the impact business closings are having on the state due to the growing COVID-19 pandemic.

“The last thing I want to do is impact families and individuals and our businesses that are the backbone of our economy,” she said, adding that she hopes Iowa will soon again “have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country and can have one of the highest workforce-production rates.”

Reynolds then added, with her voice cracking, “You know, Iowans are scared and they’re nervous. And I appreciate that, but we’re gonna get through it. And if you keep doing what we’ve asked you to do, we will be back to those good days. So hang in there.”

Reynolds reiterated that she is relying on data tied to the spread of COVID-19 to make her decisions about business closings. Iowa reported Friday that three people had died of COVID-19 and the state had 56 new positive cases. A total of 235 people have tested positive for the coronavirus-related illness to date.

As of Friday afternoon, 23 states — including neighboring Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois — had issued shelter-in-place orders keeping residents in their homes except for essential travel. Reynolds said Friday the data she is looking at indicates that such a step is unwarranted in Iowa.

Iowa saw a record number of people filing for unemployment benefits last week and Reynolds on Thursday ordered the closure of a variety of retail businesses.

When asked about the fact that some doctors have questioned the data due to the relatively small number of Iowans being tested for COVID-19 in Iowa, Reynolds said, “This is why it’s so important for me to make my decisions based on data. I also have hospitals that have sent letters to me saying, ‘Please, please don’t issue a shelter-in-place (order) because it would only exacerbate what we’re trying to do. It starts to spread fear. It impacts the supply chain when we’re trying to get the critical personal protective equipment across the state.’ You know, it just — all of that factors in. So, you know, we have people on both sides of the issue.”

For the past week, the governor has made frequent references to the daily meetings and discussions state officials are having with Iowa hospitals in anticipation of what is expected to be a significant surge in patient counts.

Asked what specific actions her office has taken to address the expected need for increased hospital capacity, Reynolds indicated she has asked hospital executives to inform her in six days of the plans they have put together to deal with the issue.

“Our team has met almost on a daily basis,” she said. “They’re working within the health care coalition that actually has been in place, I think, since 9/11 … So there have been ongoing discussions on how we can identify a potential surge, the number of beds, how do we work within the regions and resources, and how do we do everything we can to mitigate and slow the spread and really prevent overwhelming our hospital system.

“I met yesterday with the CEOS of most of the major hospital systems to ask them to work within their regions and to come back to me by next — next Thursday, I think, is when I asked them to provide me with the data — on what their plans are to deal not only with hospital surge within their existing hospital but how we address it from a regional perspective so that we can make sure if one hospital is at capacity, what are the follow-up actions or what other availability do they have to make sure that we can continue to meet the needs of Iowans.

“They’re going to get together and put a plan in place for the worst-case scenario. So hopefully that doesn’t happen, but if it does, we will have a plan in place and ready to go.”

 

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.