DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds is launching a media campaign to encourage people to act to reduce the state's surging coronavirus infection numbers but won't impose any mandates or enforce new rules.
Reynolds also said Thursday that the success of Republican candidates in the general election proves that most Iowans support her decision to not require masks and quickly end most restrictions on businesses.
"I think the election reflects that Iowans somewhat agree with how we have handled not only COVID-19 but conservative fiscally responsible decisions that have been made," she said.
The newspaper, television and radio advertising campaign will begin next week, Reynolds said. She didn't specify how much it would cost nor the funding source.
Also Thursday, Iowa reported 4,562 new confirmed cases in the past 24 hours and 20 more deaths.
The seven-day rolling average of the positivity rate in Iowa has risen over the past two weeks from 26% on Oct. 21 to over 39% on Nov. 4, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Iowa’s rate is second in the nation behind South Dakota.
Reynold attributed the rapid spread to Iowans growing weary of changing their lives to slow transmission.
“What is honestly happening is people are just experiencing pandemic fatigue,” she said.
The media campaign will stress that Iowans should take the necessary steps to stop the virus, such as wearing masks and adhering to social distancing recommendations, she said.
Reynolds said First Amendment rights to free speech must not be overridden in the quest for public safety, and she denied that Republicans are less likely to wear masks than Democrats. In recent weeks, she was photographed at Republican campaign events crowded with hundreds of people, largely without masks.
“We can’t prohibit First Amendment rights. People that are peacefully out there gathering and protesting, whatever it may be, not everybody is wearing a mask, so were going to continue to talk about the importance of doing that,” she said.
Mask mandates aren't the right response, Reynolds said, adding that Iowans frequently tell her they want businesses kept open and children in school.
Two Des Moines doctors spoke briefly at the news conference to urge Iowans to wear masks, socially distance, avoid group gatherings and get a flu shot.
"We are at a critical point in our state’s fight against COVID-19, said Dr. Hijinio Carreon, chief medical officer at MercyOne in Des Moines.
Dr. Dave Williams, chief clinical officer of UnityPoint Health, said the state must stop the virus to protect hospital and clinic workers.
"We’ve been spending eight months taking care of you, taking care of your family, taking care of your friends. My plea to everybody watching this today is take care of my family. It's time to take care of the healthcare workers,” he said.
Hospitals were planning for an onslaught of coronavirus patients.
University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City, the state's largest critical care facility, was adding intensive care unit beds to handle patients transferred from other hospitals, and more staff to handle record numbers of patient calls.
The hospital also was reassigning some staff, including operating room workers, to help in the ICU, and some non-urgent procedures were being cut back. The hospital was also modifying its staff quarantine process to allow employees who may have been exposed to return to work if they have no symptoms and test negative.
Additional visitor limitations were being imposed, and the hospital was expanding work-from-home for non-clinical frontline staff. The changes were expected to begin by Nov. 16 and continue through Jan. 3.
“This is a critical moment in the pandemic,” said Suresh Gunasekaran, the hospital’s chief executive officer. “If COVID numbers in the state continue to rise unchecked, these may be only the first of many difficult decisions we will need to make over the coming weeks."
State data shows 839 COVID-19 patients were being treated in hospitals, a new high.
In the past four days, 85 coronavirus-related deaths were reported in Iowa. In the past 30 days, 379 deaths were reported.
All 99 counties in Iowa have a positivity rate of 8% or more and 72 counties are above 15%.