JOHNSTON, Iowa (AP) — The coronavirus continued to spread broadly across Iowa Thursday as state officials said nearly 10% of the state’s schools have sought a waiver to temporarily educate students remotely instead of in classrooms.
That’s 43 school districts and nonpublic schools operating with temporary waivers from the state requirement that they be in class at least 50% of the time, said Iowa Department of Education Director Ann Lebo at a press conference.
Of Iowa’s 99 counties, 93 have a positivity rate above 15%.
For the sixth consecutive day, more than 4,000 Iowans tested positive for the coronavirus on Thursday and there were 30 more deaths.
As the virus continued its rapid spread, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported the number of people being treated in hospitals for COVID-19 increased to 1,208 patients, which amounts to 21% of all hospital patients in Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds said.
The seven-day rolling average of the positivity rate in Iowa has risen over the past two weeks from nearly 29% on Oct. 28 to 50% on Nov. 11, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Iowa’s rate is second in the nation to South Dakota, which is at 54.5%.
With the additional deaths, the virus has now killed 1,928 Iowa residents.
The White House Coronavirus Task Force warned Iowa in its report released Sunday that action is needed now to control the “unmitigated community spread.” The task force recommended limits on restaurant indoor capacity to less than 50% and restricted hours until cases and test positivity decrease.
Reynolds on Tuesday required restaurants and bars to limit unrelated groups to eight and separate groups by at least 6 feet. She declined to limit capacity or hours. She also initiated a limited mask requirement for indoor events of 25 or more and outdoor groups of 100 or more.
When asked at a news conference Thursday why she didn’t act sooner when state data shows the current escalation of cases began in late September, Reynolds said she had been traveling the state and often spoke on local radio stations, encouraging people to wear masks and practice social distancing. Reynolds did not directly address why she took no additional mitigation measures throughout October and only acted in November after Election Day.
“I have spent the entire time as I have from the very beginning not only running the state of Iowa but focusing on COVID-19 and the impact that has had on Iowans,” she said. “I also have to balance, as I’ve said over and over, life and livelihoods of Iowans and so we’re trying to do that every day and I have personally reached out to Iowans throughout the state to help us do that.”
State public health data shows 15,927 children under age 17 and 7,262 educators in Iowa have tested positive for the virus.
Reynolds also announced the state has purchased 350,000 additional test kits at a cost of $3.42 million from the same vendor providing supplies for Test Iowa.
A public service campaign to run on radio, television and in newspapers encouraging Iowans to wear masks and practice other measures to slow the spread of the virus will cost about $500,000 with the money coming from federal CARES Act funding, a Reynolds spokesman said.
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