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Iowa nursing home virus infections, deaths climb

JOHNSTON — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds offered no new measures Tuesday to reduce the number of coronavirus cases, even as a federal report warned of the unmitigated community spread that continues to claim lives, especially in nursing homes.

Iowa reported 143 nursing homes with coronavirus outbreaks, and more than 4,500 residents of care centers are infected with the virus. Data from the state Department of Public Health shows 1,008 residents of long-term care facilities with COVID-19 have died in the past eight months.

Reynolds acknowledged the increase in outbreaks and said she believes she has been aggressive in trying to prevent them but admitted that, with widespread community transmission, the virus is finding its way into nursing homes and other facilities.

While Reynolds temporarily closed restaurants, bars and other businesses to slow the progression of the virus early in the pandemic, she has resisted doing so again. She also refused for months to enact any mask requirements before finally agreeing last week to a limited mask mandate.

When asked why she didn’t act sooner, she said second-guessing is easy and questioned whether the media did enough to tell people to voluntarily practice social distancing and wear masks.

Reynolds has taken the position that it would be too hard on businesses to close them again and reasserted Tuesday that she must balance lives with livelihoods.

“You have to be careful about over-mitigation to people and having them still feel that they’re part of the answer, the solution and we’re not over-asking,” she said. “We’re trying to balance all of that and do the right thing. We’re not perfect. We’ve made mistakes but we’ve tried to do the best job we could.”

The state on Tuesday reported 18 additional deaths. More than 500 people with COVID-19 have died in Iowa so far this month and 2,224 overall.

In the past 24 hours as of Tuesday morning, there were 3,860 additional confirmed cases.

The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths in Iowa has risen over the past two weeks from 15 deaths per day on Nov. 9 to more than 30 deaths per day on Nov. 23, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

More than 1,350 Iowans remained hospitalized with the virus.

The White House Coronavirus Task Force in its most recent report released Nov. 22 said Iowa should ensure masks are worn at all times in public and suggested restaurant indoor capacity should be reduced to less than 25% and bar hours should be limited until cases and test positivity decrease. The report also said students and teachers must wear masks in schools and that the state should consider pausing extracurricular school activities.

Reynolds order last week said her mask mandate only applies when people are within 6 feet of other members of the public outside their households for at least 15 minutes. The governor’s proclamation also limited gatherings to 15 people indoors and 30 outdoors, ordered bars and restaurants to close at 10 p.m., and suspended youth and adult sports and activities. She declined to mandate masks in schools, however, and defended her decision to exempt high school sports from the shutdown, saying she believed that they can be conducted safely with mitigation efforts.

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