IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Restaurants, salons, barber shops and gyms in Iowa can reopen this week, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Wednesday, even as she remained in “modified quarantine” and the state's coronavirus deaths continued to rise.
Reynolds said she would allow restaurants, libraries and fitness centers in 22 counties, including the state’s largest metropolitan areas, to reopen Friday. Reynolds said she would also allow salons, barber shops, tattoo parlors and massage therapists to return to business statewide.
The moves came as coronavirus-related deaths in Iowa surged by 35 in two days to reach 306, and as Reynolds and the state medical director isolated themselves after potential exposure to the virus at the White House last week.
Adjusted for population, Iowa has the 14th highest number of reported cases and 24th highest death toll among the states, according to Johns Hopkins University. The coronavirus has spread rapidly through meatpacking plants and sickened residents at dozens of Iowa nursing homes.
Illnesses have disproportionately impacted the state’s Latino, black and Asian populations, who make up a large share of meat processing workers, and the elderly. Among deaths announced this week: a Congolese refugee who was an interpreter at the Tyson Foods pork plant in Waterloo and a 96-year-old retired optometrist.
Reynolds said she feels “awful” about the rising numbers of deaths but called them a lagging indicator of the pandemic's severity in Iowa. She said she felt confident about reopening more businesses because the state has enough hospital beds and ventilators to treat patients and has increased its testing capacity.
The number of hospitalized patients — 388 as of Wednesday — is down from an earlier peak and the percentage of Iowa residents testing positive for the virus is declining, she noted.
“We are on the right path and we are ready to take additional steps forward,” Reynolds said.
Still, she acknowledged that the state's largest metropolitan area of Des Moines has faced a rapid increase of confirmed infections this month and that the Sioux City region is managing the aftermath of an outbreak at a beef plant.
Critics warned the Republican governor is moving too fast to reopen the economy, even if intensive care units have not been overwhelmed.
“We urge the governor to start putting human life before corporate greed and reverse course now before more people get sick and die,” said Tom Mohan, president of the liberal activist group Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement.
University of Iowa researchers warned in a paper last month that it was too early to lift restrictions and that doing so would cause a second wave of infections. Their model projected a median outcome of 747 deaths by May 28. Reynolds nevertheless reopened restaurants and gyms in 77 counties and malls, stores, churches and dentists, downplaying the projection as a “snapshot in time.”
She defended her approach Wednesday as reasonable and cautious. Businesses that are reopening have to follow new health rules, including limiting their customers to 50% capacity and encouraging social distancing.
Bars that do not serve food, casinos, movie theaters and zoos are among the businesses that remain closed. Social gatherings and events larger than 10 people remain prohibited, and playgrounds and swimming pools are shuttered.
Reynolds announced Monday that she would follow a modified quarantine plan after potential exposure to the coronavirus during a visit last week to the White House. She also had extensive contact two days later with Vice President Mike Pence, who traveled to Iowa after learning his spokeswoman was infected.
Reynolds has been tested for the virus daily and was negative Wednesday, her spokesman said. The majority of her staff is working from home. That includes the state epidemiologist and medical director, Dr. Caitlin Pedati, who joined Reynolds at the White House and said Monday that she would be working remotely as a precaution.
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