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Iowa governor orders limited mask mandate, new restrictions

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — With Iowa hospitals filling up and schools closing classrooms, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds dropped her longtime opposition to a statewide mask mandate and enacted a limited version of one Monday.

A proclamation signed by the governor requires everyone 2 or older to wear masks when in public, indoor spaces within 6 feet of others who aren’t member of their households for 15 minutes.

Reynolds also limited many indoor gatherings to no more than 15 people and outdoor gatherings to 30, including family get-togethers.

She declared that bars and restaurants cannot stay open for in-person service past 10 p.m. And she suspended all youth and adult sports and recreational activities, except for high school, college and professional sports.

Reynolds announced the steps in a televised speech. She said they would not be easy or popular, but that they were necessary to fight a virus that was threatening to overwhelm the state’s health care system.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

Hospitals filled up, public schools closed classrooms, the state sought emergency help with contact tracing and most inmates at a large prison were infected as the coronavirus raged across Iowa on Monday.

One in every 100 residents in Iowa received a COVID-19 diagnosis in the week that ended Sunday, even as others reported delays in getting tests or were awaiting results. That was the third-worst rate in the nation, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

A record 1,510 people infected with COVID-19 were hospitalized statewide, after another surge of new patients was reported Monday evening. The number hospitalized doubled in two weeks and was expected to increase further in coming days after a surge of infections. It included 130 people fighting for their lives on ventilators.

University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City, the state’s premier hospital, was “very full” and making adjustments to free up beds for the most critically ill patients, a spokeswoman said Monday. The hospital added 10 intensive care unit beds on Monday.

The public health department for Polk County, the largest in the state, reported over the weekend that hospitals in the Des Moines metropolitan area were also nearing their limits.

“We cannot stress enough how alarming and urgent the situation has become for hospitals and their health care workers,” the department said in a statement.

Staffing was a particular concern, as more workers are in isolation or quarantine due to community spread and others are exhausted from months of work fighting the pandemic.

Hospitals are limiting procedures in order to preserve bed capacity, and transferring patients elsewhere when necessary, said Iowa Hospital Association President Kirk Norris. Some urban hospitals were looking to rural hospitals to accept transfers, he said.

“The Iowa hospital community message is that we’re here, open and prepared to care for all, but we need everyone’s help to stem this current tide of COVID-19,” Norris said.

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds said she would announce “new steps to fight the virus” in a speech Monday night. She is facing growing pressure to issue a statewide mask mandate and to put limits on restaurants, bars and other gathering places where the virus has spread.

The Iowa Department of Public Health issued an emergency Request for Proposals on Monday seeking a contractor to conduct contact tracing and case investigation services. The department announced that proposals were due Tuesday, saying outside help was needed quickly “due to the steady increase in case volume” that has overwhelmed its resources.

On Tuesday, Iowa is expected to hit the grim milestone of 2,000 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. It took five months for the state to reach 1,000 deaths in August and then three months to double, now with an average of 20 deaths per day.

For thousands of public school students, Monday marked the beginning of taking virtual classes from their homes. Several of the largest districts, including those in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Davenport, received waivers from the state last week to close in-person instruction for at least two weeks.

Statistically, the situation was most dire in three rural counties that house state prisons where the virus has spread among inmates and staff. In Jones County, 741 inmates at the Anamosa State Penitentiary had tested positive — roughly 3 of every 4 incarcerated there, according to the Iowa Department of Corrections.

State prisons in Clarinda and Rockwell City were reporting hundreds more cases among inmates, including a majority of their populations. Dozens of employees at the prisons were also infected.

The department announced that two more inmates died of complications after contracting the virus — 72-year-old Gene Edward Dryer and 59-year-old Jonathan Strain.

Dryer had been an inmate at Clarinda, and Strain had been an inmate at Anamosa. Both died at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, where they had been transferred after their health declined.

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Associated Press

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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