Reynolds rebukes media for ‘scare tactics’ in reporting Iowa’s COVID data

Gov. Kim Reynolds prepares to speak at a news conference Aug. 4, 2020, at Iowa PBS in Johnston. Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg joins her, left. (Screen shot from Iowa PBS livestream)

Gov. Kim Reynolds, sharply rebuking reporters for “scare tactics,” sought Tuesday to shed a positive light on the state’s COVID-19 statistics.

“We know that virus activity will ebb and flow over time, just as we’re experiencing now. Since late June, we’ve seen positive cases gradually trend upward,” she said. “But again, our current situation is not the same as it was a few months ago.”

Last week, she said, more than 34,200 Iowans were tested for COVID-19. While there were 2,750 new positive cases, she said, there were 31,115 negative cases for an overall positivity rate of 8%.

“When you compare that to the month of April when the decision was made to keep schools closed for the remainder of the school year, only 42,091 Iowans had been tested for that month, a 1-in-75 per capita testing rate with the average positivity rate of 21.2%. And our all-time high was 31% on April 27th,” Reynolds said. 

Reynolds pointed out the state’s average rate of positive tests has generally declined even as the number of cases has spiked. On April 29, the state saw a new record high of 809 positive cases and a positivity rate of 27.3%, she said. On May 26, a new high for positive cases was recorded at 870, but the positive rate was 18.4%. In June, the highest number of positive cases recorded was 504, with a positive rate of 7.1%. In July, the positive rate climbed slightly to 7.9%, with 703 as the highest number of positive cases in a day.

Reynolds had spoken during the news conference about Iowa school districts that have chosen to defy the law and the governor’s directive to hold at least 50% of classes in person this fall. When a reporter asked about teachers and parents who are concerned for their lives, Reynolds responded:  “This is part of the problem, the scare tactics that’s being laid out by the media.”

Reynolds later said she “didn’t mean to accuse” the reporter.  “I just, I want the media to give the numbers in context. … Help us,  because I think you’re a part of the solution helps all have to be a part of the solution. You can hold me accountable. You can ask me anything, that’s fine. It goes with being the governor, but also we need to, we need to put the numbers into context. So when Iowans are out there and there is so much anxiety about the uncertainty and what the expectations are, we need to help them walk through that, not escalate that anxiety.”

Media around the state have reported recently about difficulty in getting information from Iowa Department of Public Health and the governor’s office about Iowa’s management of the virus. The Cedar Rapids Gazette recently cited a list of media requests for information that the Reynolds administration has denied or ignored. The Iowa Capital Dispatch has been quoted a charge of almost $10,000 for public records related to communications about the state’s management of the pandemic.

Reynolds said the state’s highest hospitalization level was on May 6 when 417 people with the virus were in hospitals. On Aug. 3, 243 people were hospitalized, she said.

“But 136 of them were admitted specifically for COVID-19. Over 100 others were admitted for other reasons and on admission, they were tested for COVID-19 and tested positive,” Reynolds said. “Most of the hospitals are now testing every patient when they’re admitted, which is a big change from … where we were just a few months ago.”

Reynolds said the state will begin to report on its coronavirus website how many Iowans are hospitalized because they are ill with COVID-19, compared to how many are admitted for other reasons and then test positive. 

“So I’m highlighting this information not to downplay the pandemic. We all know that COVID-19 is a serious situation, and we’re appropriately managing it as such, but the headlines would have you believe otherwise,” she said. “As the governor, I have the responsibility to not react to partially informed headlines or news stories, but to make decisions based on data, and the Department of Public Health experts in the epidemiologist team that’s in the best interest of the lives and livelihoods of Iowans.”

The number of tests given has dropped below 3,600 the past couple of days, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health.

Since the pandemic began, 491,929 people have been tested in Iowa. That’s equivalent to 15.4% of Iowa’s population.

As of Tuesday morning, 45,981 people had tested positive since the pandemic reached Iowa, 9.3% of those tested. On Monday, 5% of those tested were positive, the state reported. 

A total of 33,925 have Iowans have recovered, and 885 have died. 

Data varies on the daily total. Iowa state data showed 181 new cases and seven deaths for the 24 hours through 10 a.m. Tuesday. 

The New York Times reported “at least” six new deaths and 182 new cases on Monday. The Times, which includes cases identified as “probable coronavirus” by public health officials, said Iowa has averaged 458 cases per day for that past week. That is down 14% from the average two weeks earlier. 

State records show Polk County had recorded 9,733 cases, by far the highest in the state. 

 

Kathie Obradovich
Editor Kathie Obradovich has been covering Iowa government and politics for more than 30 years, most recently as political columnist and opinion editor for the Des Moines Register. She previously covered the Iowa Statehouse for 10 years for newspapers in Davenport, Waterloo, Sioux City, Mason City and Muscatine. She is a leading voice on Iowa politics and makes regular appearances on state, national and international news programs. She has led national-award-winning coverage of the Iowa Caucuses and the Register’s Iowa Poll.
Perry Beeman
Senior reporter Perry Beeman has nearly 40 years of experience in Iowa journalism and has won national awards for environmental and business writing. He has written for The Des Moines Register and the Business Record, where he also served as managing editor. He also is former editorial director of Grinnell College. He co-authored the recently published book, "The $80 Billion Gamble," which details the lottery-rigging case of Eddie Tipton.