The latest from the state and county
The number of positive cases of COVID-19 has grown by another 19 in Iowa, bringing the state total to 124 confirmed cases, Gov. Kim Reynolds said Tuesday. Nine of those new cases were people who were already in the hospital for other reasons.
The latest report includes cases in Jasper County and Warren County in central Iowa. That means 30 counties in Iowa have positive cases. There are still no cases reported in Buena Vista County or the surrounding area. The nearest cases would be one in Carroll, two in Woodbury. Only two other northwest counties have cases, one each in Sioux and Kossuth.
The largest concentration of cases continues to be in Johnson County (the Iowa City area), where 37 cases are confirmed. Polk County (Des Moines) has 17 cases.
State data shows 70 women have tested positive and 54 men. People aged 61 to 80 are the largest group affected with 61 cases, nearly half of the positive cases in that age group.
On Tuesday, Polk County announced it would open a shelter at the Iowa State Fairgrounds for homeless people with COVID-19. Those who test positive for the illness can recover at the Youth Inn, a spot that during the fair is home to hundreds of young exhibitors. The county will provide meals, beds, laundry services and medical care.
Reynolds said that voluntary social distancing is adequate to manage the spread in Iowa so far, but did not rule out stronger measures such as a “stay at home” order if it were to prove necessary in the future.
State health officials are suggesting that such an order would not make COVID-19 go away, as it continues to circulate around the world and can be introduced or re-introduced into a community at any time.
One official advised Iowans to think of state actions like a dial rather than a switch - and the dial is likely to be turned up and down over time.
The governor praised Iowans for following voluntary measures. Highway traffic has been reduced by 50 percent despite the fact that trucking has needed to continue full-bore, she said.
While President Trump spoke optimistically Tuesday about hopes for the country to return to normal by Easter (April 12), health officials warned that lifting quarantine too early could cause hospitals to be overwhelmed.
Governor Reynolds said she is not prepared to propose a date for opening schools or lifting other measures. The decision will be based on information she is given by the Department of Public Health, primarily based on Iowa’s situation, but also informed by regular conference calls with other governors around the country as well as federal officials. She indicates that hospitalization levels may be a key indicator of decisions to be made.
BV County addresses issues
Buena Vista County officials held a special meeting Tuesday morning online to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic.
The courthouse will remain closed, it was decided, with offices remaining open and accessible by phone. Any business can be left in the drop box on the east side, which is being checked hourly.
County supervisors waded through a series of issues on county employees. For the next two weeks, any employees staying home due to illness, those with an ill immediate family member requiring them to stay home, those who choose to self-quarantine due to high risk, and those who have to remain home because no child care is available will be paid.
If offices are able to institute a split shift to reduce the number of people in an area at a time, employees will be paid for the lost hours.
The supervisors will reassess the COVID-19 policies in two weeks.
Small business help
Governor Reynolds also announced that the state is launching a $4 million effort to assist small businesses with grants and tax relief tied to COVID-19 losses.
The grants will range from $5,000 to $25,000 and be made available to companies with two to 25 employees. Also, the Iowa Department of Revenue has automatically extended the sales- and withholding-tax deadlines for any business that receives a grant, and it will consider an extension for any business that applies for a grant.
Also, Iowa Workforce Development will allow businesses with fewer than 50 employees to delay, until July 31, their unemployment-tax payments for the first quarter of the year.
“These three actions will provide some much-needed relief for struggling small businesses, as well as some help with cash flow,” Reynolds said.
For most people, COVID-19 causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.