Gov. Kim Reynolds, while reporting a slight decrease in Iowa’s new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, said Tuesday that Iowa “cannot risk” a spike of virus activity and new cases as it has seen after previous holidays this year.
“As we saw during the summer months, holidays can result in a spike of virus activity and new cases, something that we cannot risk at this time,” she said during a news conference at Iowa PBS in Johnston.
Reynolds said there were nearly 16,600 new positive cases reported in the past week, with a state positivity rate of 14.7%. “And while these numbers are not where we need them to be, they are lower than they were the week prior,” when the state recorded nearly 28,000 new cases and a test positivity rate above 24%.
Reynolds said coronavirus-related hospitalizations hit a “peak” on Nov. 17 at 1,527, and the state has seen almost daily decreases in that number for the past week. “And again, while these are positive signs, it’s too early to know if they’re indicators of a trend,” she said.
Most national models are predicting a rise in hospitalization levels over the next four weeks, she said. although they vary in the size of the increase and some may not take into account changes in mitigation measures or behavior.
The slight reduction in new cases comes about two weeks after Reynolds issued a new mask mandate for some social gatherings, canceled youth athletic events except for high school and college sports, and limited the number of spectators at high school games.
The number of outbreaks in Iowa nursing homes has continued to grow, however, affecting 144 facilities currently. More than 1,000 residents and staff of Iowa nursing homes with COVID-19 have died since the beginning of the pandemic out of a statewide total of 2,224 deaths to date, according to Iowa Department of Public Health data.
Asked whether she did enough to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on nursing homes, Reynolds said the state was “very aggressive at the beginning” with long-term care facilities and “actually, I would say, probably led the nation” with strike teams, testing and surveillance testing.
“It’s easy to look back and see if you maybe should have done more or less or handled (it) a little bit differently,” she said. “I’ve tried to be very targeted in the mitigation efforts we’ve put in place.”
Asked what she saw in state metrics in October that persuaded her to delay new mitigation efforts, she responded, “Well, it’s easy to second-guess.”
She said it was the rising number of hospitalizations that spurred the latest increase in mitigation requirements and the state continues to “monitor” and maintain communications with hospital officials.
“I want to reassure Iowans that no matter what’s reported, in Iowa we are monitoring the situation every day in real time. We’re studying the data, we’re talking with leaders in our health systems and our hospitals, we’re reaching out to long-term care facilities and we’re discussing additional steps that may need to be taken to keep our most vulnerable safe,” she said.
Reynolds declined to elaborate on what those steps may be. She said she’s “grateful and hopeful” that progress on COVID-19 vaccines and “encouraging” news on therapeutic treatments will start to make a difference.