White House experts warn Iowa: 'Unyielding COVID spread' requires stronger steps
White House experts are urging Iowa to ramp up testing, require masks and take other steps to control its raging coronavirus outbreak.
"The unyielding COVID spread across Iowa continues with new hospital admissions, inpatients, and patients in the ICU at record levels," the new White House coronavirus task force says in its latest report. "The most recent trends, showing steep inclines across all indicators, need immediate action including mask requirements to decrease severity in morbidity and mortality among Iowans."
The coronavirus task force has been sending weekly reports with stark warnings to each state's governor. ABC News obtained the latest set of reports, dated Nov. 8. Des Moines' ABC affiliate, WOI-TV, posted the Iowa portion Wednesday morning. The governor's office has not yet released the report to the Des Moines Register.
The task force report shows that Iowa has the fourth steepest coronavirus outbreak in the country, behind only North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Iowa hospitals have become jammed with record numbers of COVID-19 patients the past few weeks. An epidemiologist told Polk County leaders Tuesday that those numbers could double again by Thanksgiving if the epidemic rages unchecked.
The White House task force has repeatedly called on Iowa to require residents to wear face masks in public. Gov. Kim Reynolds had repeatedly rebuffed such suggestions, contending such mandates were unnecessary and unenforceable. On Tuesday, in the face of soaring hospitalizations, Reynolds announced a mask requirement for certain situations and limits on some types of gatherings.
However, Reynolds still didn't impose measures as stringent as those ordered in many other states.
“You can still eat in a restaurant, you can still go to a movie and work out at the gym, and in many states you can’t do that," Reynolds told reporters Tuesday. "Iowa is open for business and we intend to keep it that way. That’s why it’s time for these additional mitigation measures.”
The new White House report urges Iowa to limit restaurants' indoor seating capacity to 50% of normal and restrict their operating hours. It also says Iowa should be regularly doing broad testing of many groups of people, such as teachers, hospital staff, care facility workers and college students.
"These efforts to identify and reduce asymptomatic transmission should run concurrently with testing of symptomatic persons and contact tracing of cases," the report says.
The recommendation comes as many Iowans struggle to make timely appointments with testing programs, including the state's Test Iowa effort.
The White House experts also say that Iowa should require all students and teachers to wear face masks in schools, and that it should advise residents not to gather with anyone outside their immediate household until the crisis abates.
Reynolds' Tuesday order on masks did not apply to schools or students although some schools do require them.
Tony Leys covers health care for the Register. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 515-284-8449.
White House Coronavirus Task Force report from Nov. 8, 2020
via Des Moines' ABC affiliate, WOI-TV