Sep 2, 2021
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript September 2
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds held a press conference on September 2, 2021. She announced a new COVID-19 dashboard. Read the transcript of the briefing here.
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Governor Kim Reynolds: (00:04)
Okay. Well, good morning, everyone. As you know, Iowa, along with much of the nation, is experiencing an increase in virus activity due to the more contagious Delta variant, which now accounts for 99% of new cases in the state. So today what I thought I would do is try to put the latest information about the virus in context, while discussing what we all could do to continue managing the virus within the normal course of our daily lives.
Governor Kim Reynolds: (00:34)
Over 18 months, Iowans have come to understand that this is a long game. We know that virus activity can and does fluctuate. We’ve shown we can respond and adapt without abandoning the reasonable and balanced approach that has proven effective. Especially with vaccines widely available, the rise we’re currently experiencing isn’t cause for panic, far from it, but it is a good reason to consider what you can do to help.
Governor Kim Reynolds: (01:05)
Since mid July, we’ve seen a steady but manageable increase in COVID-19 cases and as expected, a corresponding increase in hospitalizations. Currently, we have 524 Iowans who are, some of those are out of state, but the majority are hospitalized with the virus. In November of last year, when COVID was surging, hospitalizations rose to an all time high of 1,527. We don’t want to relive that experience and thankfully it’s unlikely that we will. The situation is different now, most notably because we have a vaccine.
Governor Kim Reynolds: (01:42)
Iowa is in a strong position. According to the CDC, Iowans with at least one dose, 12 and older, is at 66.4%, 65 and older is at 91%. Still, as you all know, the virus continues to spread among the unvaccinated. In fact, of those currently hospitalized, 79% were not vaccinated when they were infected and 90% of COVID patients currently admitted to an ICU are unvaccinated. The data reflects, I think as you’ve heard for months now, that COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at preventing serious illness, hospitalizations, and death, which ensures that more beds are available for other purposes because as you also know, it’s not just patients with COVID who are being hospitalized. Hospitals are also treating patients with other illnesses, injuries and emergent needs. Plus, we’ve seen an unusually high number of children with RSV.
Governor Kim Reynolds: (02:46)
Resources in some Iowa hospitals are being stretched. We get a daily report on that. In some cases, it’s due to limited bed capacity. But in many cases and many others it’s because of workforce shortages. So we want to do our part to ensure that I ones who need care under any circumstances can get it, and getting vaccinated is the most effective tool that we have in making that happen. It’s the best way to protect yourself and those around you. This is especially important as we start to roll into flu season.
Governor Kim Reynolds: (03:20)
With the start of the new school year, I also want to provide a snapshot of what the data is telling us about students. Iowa lead the nation getting kids back into school safely and responsibly last year. Even then, long before vaccines had been approved, we demonstrated that schools could remain open for in-person learning without undue risk. A year later, with millions of vaccine doses administered at anyone over 12 now eligible, we’re in an even better position. But as is common every single year when school starts, students are exposed to a number of viruses and may become ill, and this year will be no different.
Governor Kim Reynolds: (04:03)
Fortunately, what we’ve also known about COVID, and it continues to hold true, is the risk of serious illness in children is minimal. Hospitalizations among children remain very low. Currently, only 2% of Iowans hospitalized with COVID are under the age of 18, and this is encouraging, but we continue to monitor it closely every day.
Governor Kim Reynolds: (04:30)
It’s important to understand, I think all of us understand that now that COVID isn’t going away and practically speaking, what began as a pandemic will become an endemic, the virus, it’s here to stay, which means we have to find a way to live with it in a responsible, balanced and sustainable way. As always, that includes keeping kids home when they’re sick, parents talking to their doctors about vaccinations, not only COVID vaccines, but also those for flu and any others necessary to keep their children healthy.
Governor Kim Reynolds: (05:07)
As part of learning to live with the virus, it remains important for Iowans to get tested as soon as possible when symptoms appear. Testing is widely available at health care clinics, pharmacies and private labs, and the State Hygienic Lab has ample testing supplies and they are available for any provider. Remember, while you’re waiting for your results, stay at home and away from others. And if you test positive, follow the isolation instructions provided with your diagnosis.
Governor Kim Reynolds: (05:40)
The Department of Public Health and the State Hygienic Lab are also offering free test Iowa kits that you can use at home. These are just a great option for proactive testing or to actually have on hand for future use. You can request the saliva test kits online at testiowa.com. They’ll be shipped directly to you by UPS. And after collecting your sample, you’ll ship them back to SHL, the State Hygienic Lab, where they’ll be processed and the results reported back to you electronically. If you do test positive for COVID-19 and you have existing health conditions that may put you at greater risk, we want to remind everybody that the monoclonal antibody treatments, such as Regeneron, are highly effective at preventing severe illness and hospitalizations. The treatment really effectively jump-starts your immune response to the infection, but it’s critical that you start the treatment early. You can find the treatment locations for those near you by going on to covid.infusioncenter.org. It has a map with the locations for the monoclonal infusion centers. And with that, I’d like to invite Director Garcia to the podium to provide some additional data.
Dr. Kelly Garcia: (07:11)
Thank you, Governor. Throughout the pandemic, our team at the Department, in partnership with health systems and providers around the state, have worked to gather and share information to ensure Iowans have the tools they need to protect themselves and go about their lives. Every day, these systems are exchanging data and every day our team of public health professionals are reviewing and making decisions to best protect health.
Dr. Kelly Garcia: (07:34)
As we know more about COVID and as the new variant is now dominant, our approach has evolved. We continually reassess the information we’re sharing and the way that we’re sharing it. Earlier this summer, on July 7th, we scaled back the frequency of reporting on our coronavirus.iowa.gov website. For context, we were one of the last states in this region to do this. And we consulted with our other state partners, the officials in those states and our federal partners who had also at that time shifted to weekly reporting. The situation though has evolved and we are not where we were a year ago, in a good way, mostly, but we also hear you. We know that as the virus evolves, as we see states struggling with high case counts in the south and as we hit another milestone in our response, it’s time to make another shift. We owe it to you to share and ensure that you have access to clear information. And I want you to hear it from me that every day, all along, internally, we are looking at critical data points. We’re working closely with hospitals and in fact, we’ve developed new technology to ensure that they have the data they need to adjust operations.
Dr. Kelly Garcia: (08:46)
Today, there is a clear interest, we’re hearing from Iowans to know and understand more and so we’re adjusting our public reporting. We recognize reporters who have told the story about our COVID response from the beginning, along with legislators, want more information, but also business owners do, educators do, everyday Iowans do and so we’re reformatting our COVID website to highlight the things we think make the most sense to focus on. This includes making hospitalization data more prominent. This also includes, for the first time, the associated vaccination status for those hospitalized.
Dr. Kelly Garcia: (09:24)
We’re also pushing these key metrics to the landing page so that it’s easier to see. And it’s easier to see what this looks like over time as compared to a marker of when we deployed vaccinations to all Iowans. While we still update the site weekly with deeper, more comprehensive data, which we know that other professionals and our data consumers analyze, these updated dashboards will be pushed out on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. It is our goal to highlight the critical information Iowans want more frequently, but this approach and frequency also allows time for our data team to ensure the accuracy of that deeper level information.
Dr. Kelly Garcia: (10:04)
We know there’s an intense interest and need, and we’ve packaged what we hope resonates and shows Iowans what today looks like in our system. Of course, we stand ready to adjust once again should we need to. Our response does continue to evolve. And thank you for the time today. And please use the answer that the governor just mentioned, we have it right in front of us, for your neighbor who’s a nurse, for your child or for your grandmother, please get vaccinated.
Governor Kim Reynolds: (10:36)
Thanks, Kelly. And as always, I just so appreciate you and your team and your heroic efforts day in and day out to address COVID-19.
Governor Kim Reynolds: (10:46)
So in closing today, I want to thank Iowans for everything that you continue to do to ensure that our state remains on a forward path. I’ve been clear from the beginning that vaccination is easily the best tool that we have to counter the virus. I chose to get vaccinated months ago, I would do it again, and I continue to urge Iowans to get vaccinated to protect themselves and those around them. I believe the government’s role in a public health crisis is to provide the public reliable information so that they can make their own informed decisions. I also believe this approach is more effective than mandates that attempt to dictate other people’s behavior. Iowans care about the common good. They’re capable of making their own informed decisions about their health and they deserve the respect from their leaders to allow them to do so. That’s been our policy from the beginning and Iowans have rewarded that trust over and over again. So with that, we’ll go ahead and open it up for questions.
What’s the theme of this today, is you’re not really changing anything, it’s still leaving it up to people to make the right choice-
Governor Kim Reynolds: (12:00)
Well, I think it’s really talking about where we’re at right now in the context of everything. Dave, we’re in a different place. We didn’t have vaccines a year ago and we were able to get our kids back in school safely and responsible. It’s obvious that vaccines are our best tool against countering COVID-19 so we want to reiterate to Iowans to get the information that you need, do the research and get a vaccine. It’s the best thing that you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones. We see that the data we’re collecting actually proves that out.
Governor Kim Reynolds: (12:30)
So just to let people know, we have plenty of tests. We want to encourage Iowans to go ahead and test if they think they have symptoms. Those are available. There’s been some questions out there if we have enough tests, there’s no supply chain issue. We have multiple tests. There’s multiple places Iowans can go to get the tests. We want to make sure that they’re aware of that as well.
Governor Kim Reynolds: (12:52)
And then Kelly is just talking about the frequency that we’re going to update the information. We’ve streamlined it. I think we’ve made it better for what we’re hearing that Iowans want to see and so we’ll continue to evaluate that. But she also said, so did the CDC, everybody changed the way that they were updating the information because we were in a different place and so we’ll continue to monitor that.
It’s clear that many Iowans are just not going to get vaccinated. There’s nothing you can do to change their mind. Yet you continue, as you have in the past, saying people need to make [crosstalk 00:13:25]. So what can you do about the people that won’t do it? I mean, they’re not going to take your advice, they’re not going to-
Governor Kim Reynolds: (13:31)
Well, I’m going to put my confidence in them they’re going to make that decision. First of all, we don’t know all of their health decisions. You don’t know my health decisions. I don’t know your health, I don’t know yours. And so there may be really justified reasons that they don’t do that so that’s why I don’t believe mandates work. I think we need to allow them to talk to their physicians, talk about some of their health issues that they may have and together make that decision.
Governor Kim Reynolds: (13:58)
But what I’ve said, I will do, I made the decision to get it, will continue to provide education and information about the efficacy of the vaccines and hopefully that’ll help continue to make them assessable, continue to provide testing and hopefully that, at some point, will help move… We are seeing steady increase. I think that’s encouraging every day. It ticks up about a 10th, but it ticks up. I think on the 27th we had 7,600 vaccines so we’ve seen those numbers continue to stay up, so that tells me people are looking at what’s happening with how transmissible the Delta variant is and they’re looking at some of the hospitalizations and what those numbers look like for unvaccinated and they’re making the decision to go ahead and do it. But not everybody is going to do it and they have their reasons not to, and they’ll just have to adjust accordingly.
Speaker 4: (14:55)
Just some clarification on the data that’s going to be updated Monday, Wednesday, Friday, maybe Dr. Garcia you could address this, is it hospitalizations plus the associated vaccination status, anything else?
Governor Kim Reynolds: (15:12)
Dr. Kelly Garcia: (15:14)
Actually, I think we might have some additional flyers that might help you be able to see the visualization will be updated tomorrow so all Iowans will be able to see it, but it looks like this. I think Sarah will hand you one. It really is showing we’re keeping the epi curves at the top so you can see trend lines over time. That’s incredibly important. You can see the line of demarcation as to when all Iowans became eligible for the vaccine and you can see case positivity rates within the last several days as we’re updating, as well as the marker of the epi curve over time.
Dr. Kelly Garcia: (15:46)
The additional information is really keeping an eye on what our 12 plus vaccination status looks like. We’ve kept that at one dose because kids are still back to school visiting their healthcare providers and they may not have completed that series yet. 18 plus is fully completed, and so you can see our vaccination rate there. And then the big addition, which I think is significant, is that the percentage of those who are hospitalized, who are unvaccinated.
Governor Kim Reynolds: (16:14)
I think it helps drive those decisions, to your point, to just show that the data that we’re seeing here in the state of Iowa, those that are actually being hospitalized, a significant percentage is unvaccinated. So it works. It reiterates the fact that they work. People are not getting as sick, we’re not seeing it convert into hospitalizations and we’re also not seeing that the deaths also go up for the people that have been vaccinated.
Speaker 5: (16:39)
How will the state be tracking and reporting school outbreaks [inaudible 00:16:45]?
Governor Kim Reynolds: (16:45)
Well, it’s going to be tracking. Do you want to take that, how they’re tracking?
Dr. Kelly Garcia: (16:50)
So school districts are reporting that information and some school districts have made the decision not to provide that information, but I believe the vast majority are. And we work closely with our local public health professionals and what they’re seeing at their local level.
Governor Kim Reynolds: (17:02)
And I think the other thing too, again, we’re treating this just like the flu, but you would also… Director [Leibow 00:17:07] might be a good person to follow up with that question and she could probably provide you a more streamlined answer so that she’d be a good person to talk to. But it varies.
Speaker 6: (17:16)
Governor, what would you say to parents of children who are pretty young to be vaccinated and have chronic health issues that make them susceptible to COVID and don’t feel safe sending them to a classroom with other kids who might [inaudible 00:17:29]?
Governor Kim Reynolds: (17:30)
So we have an online option. The other thing that I would say to them is to continue to talk to their doctors. I would say that several of the parents that I’ve talked to that had kids with underlying conditions, or had an IEP, or was concerned about their capability of learning, had more issues with the mask than they actually did without the mask. So it’s their right. We have to remember it’s their right to wear a mask. They can make sure that they’re in an N95. They can use a face shield. There’s various things that we can do to help mitigate their chances of being exposed. But again, it’s a law in Iowa. I believe parents can visit with their doctors and then they will make an informed decision on what’s the best thing for their child, and that’s where I believe that it needs to stay.
Speaker 7: (18:21)
Governor, you have a push for the opportunity for kids to be in school in person [inaudible 00:18:25] this group of parents saying we’re scared for our children, and so now they might not have that [inaudible 00:18:33].
Governor Kim Reynolds: (18:33)
Well, but there’s also parents that have adverse reactions or kids have had severe reverse reactions to the mask, so you have to balance both of that. Again, that’s why it is a law. We’ll start there. Parents understand and know the health of their children. They’ll know what they need to do. They are the best person and individual to decide that course of action for their children, and that applies in both cases. So if you’re a parent where potentially that mask adversely affects your child or their capability to be able to learn, there’s data on both sides that support mask and the effects, the negative effects of mask, and so they’re going to have to take that information, just like vaccines, and make an informed decision as to what is best for their child. We don’t know. They don’t know,
Speaker 8: (19:25)
Speaker 9: (19:26)
Sorry, [inaudible 00:19:27] would you recommend that students go to school [inaudible 00:19:31]?
Governor Kim Reynolds: (19:31)
It doesn’t really matter because it’s law at this point. It is a law.
Speaker 9: (19:36)
It’s a mandated law but-
Governor Kim Reynolds: (19:37)
It is a law that elected officials that are elected by Iowans and constituents across this state listened to the people that they represent, passed a bill, sent it to my desk and it was signed into law.
Speaker 8: (19:51)