Reynolds defends waiting to take new COVID-19 mitigation measures

Gov. Kim Reynolds discusses COVID-19 response at her news conference on Nov. 12, 2020, at Iowa PBS. (Screen shot from Iowa PBS livestream)

Gov. Kim Reynolds on Thursday defended waiting until this week to take new mitigation action against the rapid spread of COVID-19, saying she has traveled the state and called radio stations to urge Iowans to take precautions.

A reporter asked Reynolds at her news conference why, when COVID-19 cases began ramping up this fall, with rapid escalation of hospitalizations and deaths in early November, Iowans didn’t “hear from her” about new mitigation efforts.

Reynolds said the premise of the question was inaccurate. “I actually traveled and called in to media markets all across the state. I was in northwest Iowa, I was in Cedar Rapids, I was in Davenport, I literally called in to radio stations all across the state to remind Iowans to do their part, to ask them to step up, to practice personal responsibility, to help us flatten the curve,” she said.

“… So I’ve spent my time, as I’ve done from the very beginning, not only running the state of Iowa but focusing on COVID-19 and the impact that has on Iowans. But I also have to balance, as I’ve said over and over, the lives and livelihoods of Iowans.”

Reynolds did not, however, put new mitigation efforts into place until this week. On Tuesday, she issued an order that among other measures limited spectators at school sporting events to two spectators per player and required masks for people attending large social gatherings.

Iowa has been one of the top 10 hot spots in the country for COVID-19 for weeks and remained at No. 3 in the country for COVID-19 per capita, according to New York Times data.

Reynolds also pushed back Thursday at reports of strained capacity in hospitals. More than 1,200 people with COVID-19 were hospitalized in Iowa as of Thursday afternoon.

“Recent news coverage has warned Iowans that hospital beds in some areas are full, suggesting that some people may not be able to receive care. My team and (Department of Public Health) is in regular contact with health systems and hospital leaders and they assure the team and me that that is not the case,” she said. “While hospitals are experiencing sharp increases in patient volume due to the impact of COVID-19, they still are accepting patients.”

Reynolds acknowledged that some hospitals have scaled back elective surgeries to open beds for more COVID-19 patients.

Reynolds said the state’s coronavirus website would be updated to specify how many people are hospitalized with COVID-19 as their primary diagnosis and how many were hospitalized for something else and subsequently tested positive for the virus. The state will also expand data it reports on the age of people hospitalized with the virus.