JOHNSTON — Mask-wearing in public settings will continue to be required for at least another week, while Iowa's governor softened some other restrictions in her ongoing COVID-19 emergency proclamation.
Gov. Kim Reynolds said most of the proclamation that has been in effect for the last month will continue through at least Dec. 16.
Key changes include:
— Allowing organized youth and adult sports to resume, with spectators limited to two per participant.
— Cheerleaders, band members and others performing at high school sporting events will also be allowed to have two spectators per performer.
— Restaurants, bars and other venues, including casinos, that serve alcohol must cease in-person service at 10 p.m.
— Hospitals now must reduce elective procedures by 25%, instead of 50% in the previous proclamation.
Remaining in force are mask mandates and the restrictions on sizes of indoor and outdoor gatherings she imposed last month.
Officials are continuing to monitor hospitalizations and virus spread around the state. A week removed from Thanksgiving, Reynolds said the state continues to see positive signs that the mitigation strategies were working.
"We've made good progress over the last few weeks, but our ultimate goal is to get virus activity to a level that we can manage over the next few months," Reynolds said Wednesday. "I want to take this time to thank Iowans for stepping up and doing your part. And I hope you've seen how that effort has paid off."
Iowa has reported an influx of new deaths — totaling 300 in two days. Reynolds said the state will probably see higher than normal death numbers due to the change in state’s reporting and the lag time of reporting from the National Center for Health Statistics.
The state is now reporting deaths without a positive PCR test, if there was a positive antigen test or the patient was diagnosed clinically with having COVID-19 by a doctor.
Hospitalizations topped out at 1,527, according to state data, and have since fallen to 894 as of Wednesday morning.
While reassuring, there’s still progress to be made, Reynolds said.
“We still have a long ways to go on our hospitals, but they are seeing some relief,” Reynolds said. “I have said all along we’ll dial up, and we’ll dial back, as appropriate. And that’s the same thing that we’ve done from the beginning of the pandemic.”
Iowa added 2,545 cases of the coronavirus on Wednesday, and the state’s positivity rate is 15.8% over the last two weeks.
Assuming the Federal Drug Administration's approval, the state believes it can begin vaccinating residents of long-term care facilities as soon as Dec. 28. The distribution is part of a federal program using national pharmaceutical chains to distribute the vaccine to nursing homes.
As the public begins getting the vaccine, all current vaccine candidates that seem headed toward FDA approval require two doses.
“It is really important that all Iowans come back in to get that same dose that they received, and in the right interval, for this vaccine to work,” said Kelly Garcia, the interim head of the Iowa Department of Public Health.
Gracia said the state has extensive tracking mechanisms but that the state will also issue a reminder card to residents to get their second dose, and when they should do so and what vaccine they received.
“We’re also working on other technology supports that might give a more proactive reminder,” Garcia added.
Despite news reports of a potential delay in the supply of the Pfizer vaccine, Garcia said federal partners have not notified the state that there will be any shortages. “We have assurances from them that we are OK to proceed,” Garcia said.
Reynolds also used Wednesday’s press conference to encourage schools to set aside hybrid plans and send children to school in-person full-time.
The governor said the state has data that shows the transmission of the virus in schools is minimal.
“When positive cases do occur in schools, it’s more likely that the virus is introduced by adult teachers and staff,” Reynolds said. “Transmission within schools occur most often between staff members, less often amongst staff and students, and rarely occurs from student to student.”
Reynolds said data the state has collected from schools' voluntary reports show less than 2% of Iowa’s students in grades K-12 have been infected with the virus. She said most of the infections were due to exposure outside of school, “either because of community spread or because a household member was positive.”
Extended school closures have detrimental impacts on students, Reynolds said, both for all-virtual and “alternate learning models.” She cited a recent study from McKinsey and Company that students could lose 5-9 months of learning by the end of June.
Reynolds said the law passed by legislators requires schools to have the option to provide up to 50% of instruction virtually.
She said she supported parents having the option to keep their students at home with virtual instruction, but Reynolds said students should be in school five days a week.