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Iowa governor moves to reopen state as new virus cases persist

Associated Press

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JOHNSTON, Iowa (AP) — A day after Gov. Kim Reynolds was complimented at the White House on her management of the coronavirus pandemic, Iowa on Thursday reported it has surpassed 11,000 positive cases and that 231 residents have died of COVID-19.

Reynolds issued orders Wednesday to open malls and fitness centers in 22 counties with the highest level of infections that had remained closed in earlier orders. The move, which is effective Friday, following similar actions in Iowa’s 77 other counties. Malls and some retail businesses will remain limited to 50% capacity.

“As we’ve seen this week, business owners will decide whether the time is right to open their doors just as Iowans choose whether or not they will resume some of their normal activities,” she said.

Reynolds also is allowing dentists to resume practice and campgrounds, drive-in movie theaters and tanning facilities to reopen statewide, with some limitations.

Although the state reported 655 new positive cases and 12 additional deaths, Reynolds didn’t open her daily news briefing Thursday with the updated numbers. She said the state’s focus is managing the virus.

“I do think we’re shifting in the way that we’re talking about the virus and how we maintain it,” she said. “Since we kind of really accomplished what we were trying to do to make sure that we had the health care resources available, we now have shifted our focus from mitigation of resources to managing and containing virus activity as we begin to open Iowa back up.”

The state has been criticized for failing to squash outbreaks among workers at meatpacking plants, but President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence complimented Reynolds for managing the situation. Unions and other advocates for the plant workers — many of whom are immigrants — have complained they’re victims of corporations refusing to act swiftly enough to protect them as they stand side-by-side cutting up pork, chicken and beef.

State officials announced Tuesday that nearly 1,400 workers at three Tyson Foods pork processing plants in Iowa have tested positive for the virus. In recent days, several meat plants have closed due to outbreaks, most for just days to allow crews to clean and sanitize the plants.

Reynolds called the production of meat in Iowa a “finely oiled machine and we have to make sure all aspects of it are working appropriately.”

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who also attended the White House meeting Wednesday, said meatpacking plants should be back in production within 10 days.

High worker absenteeism due to sickness and fear of infection has reduced the capacity of plants to produce meat, causing some major retailers to limit consumer purchases and analysts to predict higher prices in the coming months.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and death.

Reynolds has faced criticism for reopening business before a decrease in new infections in the state. She said while she can’t stop the virus, she can’t keep businesses closed “and our lives restricted indefinitely.”

She said her plan to get the state’s economy back up and running is “not perfect,” but that “we’re doing everything we can to really take care of Iowans in a responsible way” and “get our lives somewhat back to normal.”

A new report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on Thursday showed 24,693 new unemployment claims in Iowa. Since Reynolds first imposed business restrictions in March, 285,422 jobless claims have been filed.

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