On St. Patrick’s Day, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds issued the latest in a series of proclamations that will shutter businesses and take “social distancing” recom-mendations to a new level in the battle to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
Reynolds issued a state of public health disaster emergency that effectively closed gathering places including bars, restaurants, casinos, fitness centers, places of worship, recreational facilities, theaters and senior citizen centers. It prohibits mass gatherings of more than 10 people for any reason until April 16 unless the governor either terminates or extends the provisions.
“I have authorized all available state resources, supplies, equipment and materials to combat the spread of COVID-19,” she said, referring to the respirato-ry illness from a novel coronavirus.
Number of cases increases
Over the past 10 days, the number of confirmed cases in the U.S. has doubled every three days, according to data from Johns Hopkins Center for Health Secu-rity.
From March 10-13, the U.S. count of confirmed COVID-19 illnesses jumped from 959 to 2,169. From March 13-16, the numbers soared to 4,632. Last week, the count increased to more than 10,000. There are more than 375,000 cases worldwide, and more than 16,000 people reportedly have died.
The number of deaths in the U.S. and elsewhere is on a similar trajectory. As of Thursday, more than 150 Americans have died after contracting COVID-19.
Iowa had 64 confirmed cases of the illness as of press time Monday. The state with the most cases is New York, but Washington has recorded the most deaths so far..
No confirmed COVID-19 cases have been announced in Jackson or Clinton counties.
Call 211 hotline
Michele Cullen, Clinton County Community Health manager, said there currently is a limited number of COVID-19 test kits available, so there are criteria to determine who should be tested.
Residents are encouraged to call 211 before going to or calling a medical facility. The hotline is intended to assist people with developed symptoms of a respiratory illness.
Those who meet one or more of the four testing criteria include:
• Hospitalized patients with fever and respiratory failure and no alternate diagnosis.
• People older than 60 who are hospitalized with fever and respiratory symptoms (cough, difficulty breathing) and chronic medical.
• Anyone (including health care providers) cohabiting with someone who has contracted COVID-19.
• People with a history of international travel to a country with a Level 3 CDC travel health warning or who have taken an international cruise in the 14 days prior to becoming ill.
Testing lab, Medicaid
receive funding boost
Before leaving the Statehouse, law-makers approved a supplemental appro-priation of $525,000 for the processing of COVID-19 testing kits at the State Hygienic Laboratory. The bill also in-cluded $89 million for Medicaid, $1.7 million for the Hawk-I children’s insur-ance program and $600,000 for the Glenwood Resource Center, which aids adult residents with severe disabilities.
Beyond those measures, Reynolds will have expanded authority to transfer dollars that have been appropriated, including from one department to another, and to access up to 10 percent of the state’s economic emergency fund. That fund contains about $190 million.
Education mandate waived
Before suspending its legislative session for 30 days and granting Reynolds broad authority in budgeting and access to emergency funds, the Iowa Legisla-ture waived the required minimum num-ber of days or hours of face-to-face instruction at public schools.
On Sunday, Reynolds recommended that all public schools in Iowa close for at least four weeks. State law requires at least 180 days — or 1,080 hours — of face-to-face instruction. That requirement has been waived for this year, meaning students will not have to make up days missed because of the COVID-19 shut-down.
If school districts need to close longer than four weeks, the governor would have the authority to extend the waiver statewide or on a case-by-case basis. Lawmakers said Reynolds could address questions that may arise, such as gradu-ation requirements for seniors.
It’s closing time
Last week, the governor expressed reluctance to close businesses such as bars and restaurants unless conditions change.
Nonetheless, less than 24 hours later, Reynolds delivered some tough news for many bars and dine-in restaurants. Her order limits bars and restaurants to drive-through, carry-out and delivery service. Food and beverages may be sold if they are promptly delivered to customers off the premises. At least 20 states have enacted similar restrictions.
The governor’s move also suspends numerous regulations, such as requiring hospitals to get a certificate of need to add bed capacity and rules that limit the use of telehealth. Medical professionals whose licenses have lapsed due to re-tirement would be allowed to treat patients. It suspends numerous regulations related to transportation, including allowing people to drive with expired licenses and vehicle registrations.
Utility bill help available
The Iowa Utilities Board issued an emergency order directing all electric and natural gas utilities to cease residential service disconnection because of non-payment until May 1.
Community Action of Eastern Iowa encourages all area residents to apply for utility assistance. Workers who have lost wages due to the COVID-19 crisis are especially encouraged to apply. The application can be completed without visiting an office. Eligibility is 175% of the federal poverty level.
The Department of Human Services (DHS) is putting policies in place to ensure access to child care during this time, including financial and operational assistance.
These include paying child-care providers based on enrollment rather than attendance, and expediting licensing to enable increasing capacity.
Congress sending money?
President Donald Trump and congressional leaders have signaled support for sending checks — of possibly $1,000 or more — to every U.S. taxpayer, potentially in multiple waves.
Congress is preparing to debate a massive stimulus bill with a price tag that could approach or even surpass $1 trillion, officials said.
Those who are debating the stimulus package have said that the bill also will include hundreds of billions of dollars that will be earmarked for small businesses.
Unemployment, sick leave benefits augmented
The Iowa Workforce Development announced that it will remove some barriers to receiving unemployment benefits for workers laid off due to the outbreak.
Two days later, President Trump signed legislation that will reimburse states such as Iowa that are relaxing some requirements for unemployment benefits. The federal government will pay the difference between last year’s unemployment payouts and this year’s.
The congressional bill also includes about $91 million for Medicaid and oth-er health programs and $525,000 for the state hygienic lab’s coronavirus testing efforts. It also expands nutrition pro-grams like SNAP and WIC.
The congressional legislation potentially could have implications for workers and employers. It includes two weeks of paid sick leave and up to 12 weeks of paid family leave for some workers.
The Small Business Administration is offering loans to small businesses and nonprofits that have been impacted by COVID-19. Businesses and nonprofits can receive a low- zero-interest loan up to $2 million.