by Travis Fischer
Governor Kim Reynolds issued a new proclamation on Monday, Nov. 16, imposing additional restrictions to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
"Right now, the pandemic in Iowa is worse than it's ever been," said Reynolds on Monday. "Over the last two weeks there have been more than 52,000 new cases of the virus in Iowa."
The unprecedented spike in COVID-19 over the last several weeks has resulted in a corresponding rise in hospitalizations across the state. Several Iowa hospitals last week urged people to take preventive measures seriously as their impatient beds approach capacity.
Iowa reached a new high of 1,392 hospitalized patients on Sunday, including 196 in an ICU. Iowa has approximately 2,800 inpatient beds available across the state. Of those beds, 66 percent are currently in use.
Reynolds said Monday that COVID-19 patients make up one-in-four hospitalizations right now.
"If our healthcare system exceeds capacity, it's not just COVID-19 we will be fighting," said Reynolds. "Every Iowan that needs medical care will be at risk."
In response to this emergency, Reynolds imposed new restrictions on Tuesday, Nov. 10, as she extended the emergency proclamation for another 30 days. By the next Monday, Reynolds returned with an additional proclamation setting even stricter rules.
The new proclamation, effective as of Tuesday, Nov. 17, until Dec. 10, mandates the use of a mask in indoor public spaces when people are unable to social distance for more than 15-minutes.
Exceptions to this mandate include people with medical conditions that prevent wearing a mask; people consuming food or drink; people participating in athletic activities or exercise; any person giving a performance for an audience; people participating in a spiritual or religious gathering; deaf people and people who are communicating with them; people obtaining or providing a service that requires the temporary removal of the mask, people asked to remove their mask for identification purposes, and public safety workers when the mask would interfere with their responsibilities.
In addition, the proclamation also limits the number of people allowed for social, community, business, or leisure gatherings to 15 people indoors or 30 people outdoors. This is a reduction from Reynold's declaration last Tuesday, which set those numbers at 25 and 100, respectively.
These gatherings include wedding and funeral receptions, family gatherings, festivals, conventions, fundraisers, and other nonessential gatherings where people who do not live in the same household may come together.
Religious gatherings are exempt from this rule, however must still implement reasonable social distancing and sanitization measures.
New limitations have also been placed on restaurants, bars, bowling alleys, arcades, pool halls, bingo halls, and indoor playgrounds, which are now required to close from at least 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. and cannot host private gatherings of more than 15 people.
Previous social distancing measures such as ensuring six-feet of space between each group or individual must still be abided by. Staff who have direct contact with customers must wear a mask and customers themselves must wear a mask when not seated at their table.
Mask use is also required in casinos.
Reynolds has also ordered the suspension of youth and adult sports activities, with the exception of high school, college, and professional athletics. For high school athletics, spectators are still limited to two people per student and will be required to wear a mask.
For the purpose of public protection, all employers have been ordered to evaluate whether more employees can reasonably work from home and take steps to enable remote work.
Finally, hospitals must reduce their inpatient elective procedures by 50 percent.
Reynolds said that these measures will be re-assed in a week, with the possibility of additional measures being applied depending on hospital capacity.
"No one wants to do this. I don't want to do this, especially as we're coming into a holiday season that is normally filled with joy," said Reynolds.
As part of the previous proclamation, the state is also requiring mask use for both employees and customers at businesses that provide personal services, such as salons, barbershops, massage therapists, and tattoo parlors.
Violations of this mandate will be a simple misdemeanor.
"It's critical that all Iowans do everything within their power to stop the spread of the virus now," said Reynolds. "The virus is spreading easily between people as they gather together in groups or go about their normal activities. Especially when preventative health measures like masking and social distancing aren't being followed."
As of Sunday, Nov. 15, there have been 185,185 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state, increasing the 152,804 total from the week prior by 32,381, a 46 percent increase in new cases from the previous week.
In total, approximately 9,259 elderly adults (age 80+); 27,777 older adults (60-79); 51,852 middle aged adults (40-59); 77,778 young adults (18-39); and 16,667 children have tested positive for the disease. These estimates are based on a percentage-based breakdown of the state's reported positive cases. As the total number of cases increase, the less accurate these estimates will become. A single percentage point difference can change an estimate by more than 1,800 cases.
With 107,887 cases considered recovered, that leaves roughly 75,313 Iowans currently known to be fighting the disease, an increase of 25,099 from the previous week. This marks a 50 percent increase in active cases over the last seven days.
A total of 1,101,075 individuals have been tested for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, including 990,480 PCR tests and 110,595 antigen tests. An average of 7,562 PCR tests per day were counted over the last week along with a total of 16,667 new antigen tests. Though, without the number of repeat tests on individuals, it's unknown exactly how many tests the state has performed. Reynolds said on Thursday that the state has processed two million tests so far.
The TestIowa program has approximately 140,000 testing kits remaining, which is expected to last through December 11. Governor Reynolds has amended the state's contract with NomiHealth to purchase an additional 360,000 sample collection kits at a cost of $3.42 million.
Current testing shows that roughly 46 percent of positive cases result in symptoms while 9 percent have been asymptomatic, with the remaining cases pending or unknown.
While many people that receive COVID-19 suffer only minor symptoms, if any at all, anyone infected can still spread the virus to others.
"I'm afraid that these mild cases have created a mindset where Iowans have become complacent," said Reynolds. "About five percent of Iowans with COVID-19 require hospitalization and because of the increase we've seen over the last two weeks our healthcare system is being pushed to the brink."
Some 70,922 Iowans have undergone serology testing for coronavirus antibodies, which would indicate that they have had the virus. Of that number, 4,244, about 6 percent, have tested positive for antibodies.
Coronavirus deaths continue to rise with 143 new deaths reported in the last week, bringing the state total to 1,985.
In total, approximately 1,033 elderly (52.04 percent), 784 older adults (39.5 percent), 139 middle aged adults (7 percent), 28 young adults (1.41 percent), and one child (.02 percent) have died from the virus since the pandemic began.
Of the new deaths, 44 have been attributed to outbreaks in long term care facilities, bringing the number of deaths in long term care facilities to 934.
The number of long term care facilities reporting outbreaks continues to rise, with an increase of eight bringing the total to 100 facilities with outbreaks consisting of 2,915 positive individuals and 1,372 considered recovered.
As Reynolds announced the conditional mask mandate and new restrictions, she also acknowledged that enforcement and compliance of state regulations would be largely up to the public at large and that Iowans would have to take responsibility for the health and safety of their communities.
"This isn't about mandates. This isn't about government. There isn't enough law enforcement in the country to make sure every Iowan is wearing a mask when they should. There aren't enough sheriffs in Iowa's 99 counties to shutdown every non-compliant bar," said Reynolds. "If Iowans don't buy into this, we lose. Businesses will close once again, more schools will be forced to go online, our healthcare system will fail, and the cost of human life will be high. So now is the time to come together for the greater good. To look out for each other, not because you're told to, but because it's the right thing to do."