Apr 20, 2020
Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds COVID-19 Briefing Transcript April 20
Governor Kim Reynolds tells Iowans to do what they’re told to do in order to flatten the curve in a press conference on April 20. Reynolds says meatpacking plants will stay open despite outbreaks. Read the full transcript here.
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Inmates positive tests on our website. In the community based corrections, which we call CBC, we have 10 positive cases for individuals under supervision, four positive staff cases. We continue to work closely with our partners in the CBCs as they navigate through this. On Friday, we had our first positive inmate as Governor Reynolds mentioned at the Iowa Medical Classification Center, IMCC. We had been expecting positive cases and had been planning for months. Leadership and staff responded safely, swiftly and with great courage. All staff and individuals incarcerated were wearing PPE at the time. I have great confidence in our leadership and staff who handled the situation by following the guidance on exposure and I believe this will mitigate the larger spread at IMCC. We are teaming up with Iowa Department of Public Health to conduct more testing at IMCC in the next few days in the coming weeks.
I would like to publicly thank Public Health for all their help and support, so thank you. We have a list of actions that were taken, IDOC has taken over the past month. I’m not going to go into every detail today, but you could look on our website under COVID-19. So some of the main responses have been to prevent the mitigate and introduction of COVID-19 into the facilities. Some of the things that we have done is canceling volunteer activities as of March 9th until further notice, cancellation of all visitations on March 14th under further notice. This includes sending DOC work crews into the businesses and communities, screening employees or contractors when entering the facility for symptoms or temperatures, screening every inmate coming in through intake or reception centers and placing them in quarantine for 14 days. All staff in prisons are to wear masks and individuals incarcerated are strongly encouraged to wear a mask.
All inmates now at IMCC, since there’s a positive case are required to wear a mask. So other things we’re doing in terms of prevention of the spread within facilities. The DOC has updated pandemic policy plan to better apply to COVID-19. The plans are available on our website. IDOC has executed several tabletop exercises, with several prisons in the event there’s a positive case, which we do have now. We’re doing video messages that have been sent to inmates and staff on a regular basis to keep all informed of policy and procedural changes related to the virus. Staff are consistently monitoring inmates of symptoms or doing random temperature checks. At IMCC we’re doing temperature checks at least twice per day. If any inmate is displaying symptoms, they are immediately placed in special quarantine and testing for the illness would begin. Staff have received training in infection control procedures and how and when to use supply of PPE.
Supplies are inventoried and additional PPE will be sent to [inaudible 00:02:54]. If someone is symptomatic, the person of anyone transporting or caring for a person will be provided PPE. We have designated clean teams that have been developed to consistently disinfect high traffic areas or possibly contaminated areas. We also have been doing strategies around prevention of a spread between facilities. If an inmate has been identified as having or likely having the virus, the inmate will remain in quarantine and not be transported to another facility or released. If a COVID-19 positive inmate is going to be transported to a medical facility or hospital, that entity will receive advanced communication prior to transport. The DOC is asking jails not to bring COVID-19 positive inmates to DOC, but to hold those inmates in quarantine in jail.
We asked sheriffs across the state to suspend admissions and revocations at this time, and this is to prevent unnecessary exposure to jail inmates and reduce the likelihood of another opportunity to introduce COVID-19 into our prisons. One of the last strategies we’re working on is reducing the prison population. About a month ago we were 22% above capacity. Today our prison count is 8,372. This is the lowest it has been since June 30th, 2017. Since March 1st, we had 811 total releases. We also had 748 emissions. We are working closely with the border parole, which has authority to release those that would likely succeed in a community setting. Together our agencies are working to find a balance of good public safety and safety of the institutions for our staff and those incarcerated. Currently we have 482 approved for release. We have 90 approved for future releases, for a total of 572.
It’s critical each of these have safe sustainable housing before they are released. Additionally, we’re working closely with the community based corrections to safely parole those that had been approved back into the community. We are assessing the number of residential beds available for individuals coming out of the prison. Finally, we are working with district directors with violators. Those who violate the conditions of their supervision and are returned to prison, which make up the majority of our admissions as of late. We are exercising options to keep these individuals in their communities as long as they do not pose an imminent public safety risk.
Again, we have worked with the County jails to stop admissions for revocations. Next, I’d like to talk about Iowa Prison Industries and some of the PPE’s that have been manufactured over the course of the month. So governor Reynolds is going to be showing off the various things that we have made. So today we’re going to start with the mask. We’ve made 62,378 masks of date. We have been able to supply three masks to officers in all nine of our prisons and three masks to inmates in each of our prisons. We have made three 6,305 face shields. Thank you, governor. We have made 7,661 gowns. We’ve made 16,060 gallons of hand sanitizer. This is 30 million doses.
Kim Reynolds: (06:13)
Yes. We have 7,500, thank you governor. We have 7,584 kits to produce gallons by the Fort Dodge community, which are being disturbed by Iowa Central College. I would like to thank Dan Clark and the IPI staff and individuals incarcerated for stepping up to the plate during this time of need. Whenever we have asked them to reduce more when they’re doing 500 gallons a day to a thousand gallons a day, they’ve answered and they have produced. And they have found creative ways to accomplish the goals we set forth for them. This has been an effort of IPI staff and the individuals that are incarcerated not only to protect staff and the individuals incarcerated, but other state agencies in Iowa communities. I would like to thank all IDOC staff and their commitment and practice of keeping each other safe, and those that they supervise while utilizing best practices to mitigate the spread of COVIS-19. Again, a big thanks to governor Reynolds and her staff, who have provided tremendous leadership and guidance during this unprecedented time. Thank you. Thank you, governor.
Kim Reynolds: (07:28)
Thank you, Beth and I just greatly appreciate the proactive approach that you and your team have taken from the very start. And last week I announced that the Department of Public Health was activating strike teams for testing, contact tracing and prevention. And so in addition to what they’ve been doing at the DOC, I’ve asked director Reisetter to talk about, to give us an update on how those teams are supporting needs across the state. But I want to also just give one more shout out, because every time I’ve asked you guys to do more you have stepped up and done it. And I just appreciate your willingness and the team to really follow through what we’ve asked. So thank you very much. Sarah?
Thank you, governor. As we continue our public health response to COVID-19 it’s important to explain the public health approach that we’re taking to help businesses prevent, detect and mitigate outbreaks. First, we have business guidance that helps businesses understand what to do to prevent the virus from spreading through their workforce and what to do if they experience confirmed cases. More recently, we have been providing support with surveillance testing for essential workforces. This is the type of testing that helps us understand how much of a workforce may be affected by COVID-19. And third we conduct contact tracing for any identified positive case. This means that public health conducts interviews with positive cases and alerts, close contact of those individuals. That way we can isolate COVID-19 positive individuals at home and stop the spread of the disease.
At this time, our department has asked businesses to report to us when 10% of their workforce is absent or has confirmed cases. This is especially important for any congregate setting or social distancing is impossible or impracticable. That includes, meat packing plants, food and beverage processing plants and factories with production lines as well as warehouses. Asking businesses to alert the department if they are at a 10% threshold of absenteeism or confirmed cases, helps us understand where outbreaks may be occurring in our state. If a business does report absenteeism over 10% of their workforce, public health will work with them to understand how to prevent transmission at the workplace. In some situations, public health may be able to assist with arrangements for surveillance testing. Which means, testing a group of people that might not even have any symptoms. This helps us understand how many people at a business or facility may be infected even if they don’t know it or are not showing any symptoms. Then, we can begin to mitigate the spread through additional safety measures and contact tracing. Some businesses in Iowa have already requested support for surveillance testing, and we will continue to work with these businesses on a case by case basis to respond to their needs. As surveillance testing produces test results, we then began our contact tracing process. This is the next step in the public health response. As I already stated, contact tracing helps us identify other individuals who have been in close contact with a positive case. In state, our local public health conducts contact tracing on every positive case. We continue to look at the most efficient way to do this contact tracing related to this unprecedented event. For example, we have recently enlisted several dozen new contact tracers at the state level, a number of them who are bilingual, to meet the contact tracing needs of various communities and to assist local public health departments who might not have adequate staffing to do the necessary contact tracing.
When it’s necessary to protect the health of the public, we’ll also release the name of the business when there is an outbreak. Currently, we are working closely with officials at two meat packing facilities to control outbreaks. We are also providing assistance to officials at other facilities to prevent additional outbreaks from occurring. Today, all of these businesses have been incredible partners. They’re working hard to keep their workforce healthy and productive to continue essential food production. Long-term care facilities, is the other area that continues to be a concern for outbreaks in Iowa. Currently, there are 10 long-term care facility outbreaks. We continue to work, to prevent, detect, and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in these facilities, where it can have the most severe impacts on elderly and high risk populations. So, public… As you heard the governor mention, public health ongoing work will include a series of strike teams. These teams will be providing infection prevention guidance and providing surveillance testing of long-term care facility staff.
So long-term care center strike teams, will be made up of an epidemiologist, an infection prevention nurse, and other personnel as needed. They’ll provide technical assistance, such as instructing how to appropriately wear personal protective equipment and how to sanitize equipment correctly to prevent the spread of infection. They’ll also help conduct targeted surveillance testing. And they’ll help us identify staffing supports for long-term care facilities when shortages of staff arise. We’re also developing strike teams to assist businesses. And these teams will have a similar focus as long-term care facilities, while adding business prevention strategies. Half a dozen of these teams will provide technical assistance and COVID-19 testing for at-risk essential businesses.
They’ll also be made up of infection preventionists, state staff, National Guard staff, and critical business infrastructure representatives. I’m explaining these steps to you this morning because we want Iowans to understand how public health works. We have a wide experience responding to infectious diseases. The COVID-19 requires a response on a much larger pandemic level. It will require more resources such as the strike teams, surveillance testing, and robust contact tracing. And throughout this response, we’ve reminded everyone that this is a new virus and we must remain flexible, and we’re continuing to do that. So as we learn more, we’ll continue to adjust public health strategies to protect Iowans, and we’ll continue to share those strategies with you. Thank you, governor.
Kim Reynolds: (13:44)
Thank you, Sarah. And again, so grateful to you and your team at the Department of Public Health and also to the Department of Human Services, for stepping up to help staff of this team as well as the other individuals that Sarah outlined. Additionally, Major General Correl today confirmed that the Iowa National Guard has been authorized to move soldiers and airmen serving fulltime in state active duty to support Iowa’s COVID-19 mitigation efforts, to full time federal duty status under Title 32. This federal law provides governors the ability to place soldiers in full time duty status under the command and control of the state, but with federal funding. Currently, we have 250 Iowa National Guard soldiers and airmen, are on full time duty status, and Title 32 will provide funding for up to a thousand.
Kim Reynolds: (14:33)
This truly is a team effort and I want every Iowan to know that they are important part of the team as well. So, please continue to do your part to protect your health and the health of others, especially our most vulnerable Iowans and our essential workers. We’re all in this together and we’re going to continue to attack the COVID-19 from that response. And with that, we’ll go ahead and open it up for questions.
Speaker 1: (14:59)
Governor, are you considering an executive order or some sort of proclamation regarding meat-packing facilities, particularly the Waterloo facilities? It appears you’ve… You and Sarah this morning have confirmed there were outbreaks in Tama and Columbus Junction.
Kim Reynolds: (15:19)
Speaker 1: (15:20)
The Waterloo plant has not been mentioned.
Kim Reynolds: (15:22)
Well… So, we’re working with all of the Tyson plants. I’ve been on the phone with the CEO and the management team for all Tyson plants to talk about what they’re doing proactively to make sure that they’re protecting their workforce, the strategies that they’ve put in place to mitigate. To let them know that we do have the capacity to do surveillance testing, contact tracing to identify where some of these positive cases are, so that we can separate, isolate, and even if not at full capacity, still be able to keep the plant up and running. These processing plants are essential and these workers are essential workforce. And so, we have to be doing everything that we can collectively. We should all be working on finding solutions to making sure that we are doing infectious control policies, that we’re making sure that the workforce is protected and most importantly, that we’re keeping that food supply chain moving.
Kim Reynolds: (16:18)
And so right now, they have been complying, we’ve been working, we continue to partner with them. And so, I don’t believe it’s going to take an executive order at this time, we’re going to continue to work with the plants and be proactive. I was on the phone last week with management and every single one of the facilities in the state, to check in and to see what they’re doing, to see if we can help in any way, and just to help meet the need for their workforce to keep them up and going.
Speaker 1: (16:46)
Would you dispatch guard soldiers to the plants for cleaning measures? And, do you have the authority to order these plants to shut down and do the cleaning and then take measures to protect-
Kim Reynolds: (17:01)
Well, they are doing that. So in my conversations and talking with them, they have… They are bringing foggers in, they are doing disinfecting several times throughout the day, they’re testing employees when they come in. Employees are not to enter the facility without a mask. They’re providing mask and face shields. They’re providing petitions where they can, between the workforce, they’re segregating the breaks, they’ve shut down the water fountains, they’re testing them. We’re asking them to test when they exit the facility too. So, right now they are doing… They are really implementing and have, this isn’t something they just started, they’ve been doing this for quite some time now, just in anticipation of what would happen if they had an outbreak in these facilities.
Kim Reynolds: (17:43)
But that’s part of the advantage of having a Title 32, to have the National Guard be able to step up and run some of the missions, to get the testing to them, to pick up the testing and bring it back, to potentially help with some of the contact tracing, to help with some of the disinfecting, especially like in our long-term care facilities as well as the processing plants. But actually, right now…
Kim Reynolds: (18:03)
… from every indication and every conversation I’ve had with them, they are doing that and will continue to do it and we’re going to continue, almost on a daily basis if not two or three times a week, reaching out to do an assessment of where they’re at, what percentage of the workforce is tested. We get some of that when we do the testing positive and how we walk through, keeping them up and running even on a, maybe not at 100% capacity, but even if it’s at 50% capacity.
Kim Reynolds: (18:32)
It’s important because this isn’t like a regular facility where you shut it down for two weeks. We have farmers that are raising hogs. We are the largest hog producer in the country. We provide a third of the nation’s pork supplies, about 25 million a year. And so if we aren’t able to move them through the process, at some point, we’re going to have to be talking about euthanizing hogs and we’re not that far from it and it will be devastating not only for the food supply, but for the cost of food going forward. And so we need to be thinking about all of that, and we need everybody working together to see how we can actually come up with solutions and really mitigate, as much as we can, through this pandemic, to keep this critical infrastructure and critical workforce up and going.
Speaker 2: (19:24)
Governor, it seems like the highest outbreaks here are, as you’re talking about it, these longterm care and then the meatpacking industry. So a question about each here. On the longterm care, it’s my understanding yesterday the Trump administration is requiring more reporting so that in these LTCs if you just have one reported case, the states now have to report that. Is that your understanding and are you now doing that?
Kim Reynolds: (19:49)
We have been so proactive. I’ll let Sarah talk about that, but again, we are working with the health care facilities. We early on really took a lot of proactive measures because we knew also how critical it was that we protected a very vulnerable population. We have over 444 longterm care facilities across the state, and so all along we’ve really tried to put mitigation efforts in place and I’ll let Sarah talk about what we’re doing even on top of what they’ve already done.
So as it relates to reporting number of cases to the federal government, we continue to work with our federal partners and they have a number of requests for information. And so we work and communicate with them every day to make sure that we can provide information that meets their needs. In the state of Iowa, we’ve determined that an outbreak in a longterm care facility is three or more cases among residents of that particular facility. but we’ll continue to digest the CDC guidance and we’ll continue to work with them to make sure that they’re receiving the information that they need from the state.
Speaker 2: (20:54)
And on the meatpacking, you just said that they’d been cooperative and have done what it takes here. How is it possible then that you have so many people getting sick? Because as you know, some of the workers are saying the PPEs and the protection, the other protection were brought in too late and that’s how the initial contact happened, started to spread and then they moved in. Is that your understanding or what’s your take of how this happened?
Kim Reynolds: (21:23)
Well, there are mass gatherings. When you think about these facilities, there’s a lot of people that are co-located. So it’s all about infectious control practices and really working with the facilities to make sure that they’re doing everything that they can. But it’s also about making sure that the workforce knows that you need to practice social distancing. If somebody in your household is sick, that you’re staying home, that you’re covering your cough, that you’re mitigating the efforts even in your household as much as you can. Do you have anything to add to that?
No, really nothing to add. I just think that just what we’re seeing is confirming what we know about the virus, which is that it spreads efficiently and easily in places where people are close together. So a meat processing facility, people are working close together. And so I think that what we’re learning is confirming what we’ve heard in terms of the efficiency of the virus in some of these settings.
I think the other thing that we have learned through some of the surveillance testing is that because we’re testing an entire workforce, we do find positive cases in people who might not be experiencing symptoms. And so the guidance about staying home when you’re ill, that continues to be incredibly important, but that’s why social distancing guidance. If you do have to be out, leave only for essential errands. I think that the other thing that we’re understanding is if you can’t maintain six foot social distancing between other people, then you should be considering the use of PPE, which I understand that these particular businesses that we’re working with are working to accommodate for their employees.
Speaker 3: (23:00)
Ma’am, what about-
Kim Reynolds: (23:01)
I think that’s been a [inaudible 00:23:02] to her point with some of the surveillance testing that we’re doing is that we are seeing that the asymptomatic people that are testing positive. So it really helps that narrative too and goes back to what we’ve said all along, that it is we are in substantial spread. So Iowans should think that this is in every community across the state and they should be practicing what we’ve asked them to do from the very beginning.
Speaker 3: (23:25)
Ma’am, what about manufacturing facilities that are not critical to the food supply? Are you going to be thinking about issuing executive orders about how they operate?
Kim Reynolds: (23:34)
No, I didn’t. We need manufacturing up and going and a lot of it is tied to our food processing when you consider that 31 of the 100 largest food manufacturing and processors are located right here in the state of Iowa. So many, many, many of our manufacturers are tied, whether it’s a supply chain, are tied to the food supply chain. And so it’s essential that they’re up and going.
Kim Reynolds: (23:57)
But as Sarah talked about, they’ve provided guidance, they’re available for calls, they’re being proactive working with businesses. A lot of the businesses have even done some retrofitting to help supply some of the PPE needs for our essential workforce in the state of Iowa. So there are a lot of different ways that individuals and manufacturers and companies are working to help, well, provide the food supply chain, but as well as provide other supply chains to keep them up and going as well.
Kim Reynolds: (24:29)
So everybody just needs to be responsible and practice what they can practice. We’ve asked them to, if you’ve got workforce that can work from home, let them do that. Make sure employees know that if they’re sick, they need to stay home. Take the proper steps to try to social distance, rotate breaks, do what you can in the facilities to help protect your workforce.
Speaker 3: (24:47)
[crosstalk 00:24:47] You also mentioned that some businesses have asked for support and surveillance testing. How many, what industries, and are all of those businesses at that 10% threshold?
I don’t have the specifics to answer your question specifically about how many people have reached out to support. What I can tell you is that anybody that calls, we answer the phone and we walk them through that and we will continue to do that. And to the extent, testing supplies have been limited. And so that’s the other thing that we have to keep in mind here in terms of our ability to do surveillance tests. And we really want to focus it at … One of the, you heard me say one of our priorities this week is really looking at longterm care facilities. Visitation has been closed down at longterm care facilities now for a long time and yet we’re still seeing introduction of the virus in staff. We’re seeing that and we’re seeing some outbreaks. And so one of our targeted goals is to use some of those surveillance testing supplies to look at staff of longterm care facilities.
And so we’ll continue to do that, but there has to be a prioritization. So we’re not going to be able to offer surveillance testing services to everybody that asks us for that. So we’ll just have to see what the requests are as well as some of them are high priorities like longterm care facilities to make sure that we do everything we can to detect who those carriers might be and to keep them, send them home for a little while so that we don’t have an introduction into a longterm care facility that we’re trying to avoid.
Speaker 4: (26:17)
Rachel, Channel Five.
Hey Governor. I’m not sure if I understood this incorrectly, but last week you said the state has been inside these meat packing plants recently. Could you get me specific dates that state officials last inspected the plants in Iowa and any documentation about what officials thought in terms of mitigation measures in place? And also [Tyson 00:26:40] said they aren’t releasing how many employees at each facility have tested positive because of privacy concerns. Do you think people have a right to know how many of their coworkers have the virus or do you think it’s okay for companies to withhold this information?
Kim Reynolds: (26:54)
Well, first of all, there are two different … When you talk about the plant or when you talk about the workforce. So these federal plants that are sending their-
Kim Reynolds: (27:03)
…the processing meat outside of the state, and across the world that is done through USDA, and they have federal inspectors that are on the site. Many of them are onsite daily. So that would be, we can get you the contact information for that. But that is, they are routinely there, and inspecting often. And so then we talked about if a worker had a complaint about the facility, a work place complaint, then that was done through Iowa OSHA. And so they have a process in place where you contact them, and they have inspectors that respond appropriately to all of the complaints that have been filed. So, those are two different ways that we approach that. And, again, we have been in substantial spreads for quite some time, and so every Iowan should do everything they can to be responsible about leaving the house, about social distancing, about staying home when you can, and really doing everything that we can to protect the most vulnerable Iowans.
Kim Reynolds: (28:04)
So, as we get the information in through the contact tracing, one of the questions is asked is where is your place of employment? It’s really important that we know that so we can responsibly do the contact tracing, and see what the scope of the exposure has been, and we’ve released those numbers as we’ve received them, and so I didn’t have the information for today, which would’ve been yesterday’s findings, but we’ll have that information when the press release goes out. So, it’s information that we are sharing, and we have been, and will continue to do that moving forward.
Speaker 6: (28:41)
We have time for two more questions, we’re going to go to Aaron at Lee News.
Thank Governor. One of the things that people who know these plants have suggested is, as you noted, it’s difficult. There’s a lot of people in close proximity working in these places that one possibility would be have been slowing down those production, or assembly lines, and slowing down for production as a means to enable those workers to maybe space out a little more. Is that something in your conversations with the companies, do you know if those companies are considering slowing down those production lines? Maybe not producing as much, but giving workers an opportunity to space out a little more, or is that something you’re recommending [crosstalk 00:29:26] to them, to the mitigation efforts?
Kim Reynolds: (29:27)
They’re actually already doing that, so most of them aren’t in 100% capacity right now just because they’re encouraging people that if they’re sick to stay home, and so employees are listening, and they’re doing that. And then as we start to do some of the surveillance testing, we’re getting some sense of what the positive numbers are doing the contact tracing, and figuring out how we need to really keep the healthy workforce up and going, and have the individuals that have been sick, quarantined, for the timeframe that they need to. So they’re already talking about putting petitions in between workers, masks, the face shield.
Kim Reynolds: (30:02)
They’re segregating the way that they do their breaks and letting people go even into different areas for their lunch when they break. And so they’re doing a lot of things proactively already because, again, they know how important it is to keep the facility up, and going and they know that it’s extremely important that they take care of their workforce so that they’re healthy, and safe, and that they can continue to do to perform the essential role that they play in making sure that our nation’s food supply is secure, and moving.
Speaker 6: (30:36)
Last question will be Todd at KCCI.
Governor, we’re having a little trouble getting the numbers from Tyson, and I think that’s been brought up. Do you know if Tyson is basically recording COVID 19 cases, and are they doing that on any kind of OSHA log or OSHA recordable? So there is somewhere where that number is being kept, and available for us?
Kim Reynolds: (31:04)
I don’t know that. We’re capturing that when we go in, and do the surveillance testing, we’re able to tell the number of positive, the number of negatives. We’re able to tell the number that have been tested. Again, once a positive test is confirmed, whether it goes through the clinic, or through the state hygienic lab, or through the other labs, when public health follows up with the contact tracing, one of the questions that is asked is where is your place of employment? And so we’re able to capture that information as we work through the contact tracing process.
Speaker 7: (31:40)
Have all the tests of meat packing plant employees been completed, and you’re just waiting for results?
Kim Reynolds: (31:43)
So, we have tested all of the employees at Columbus Junction, and Tyson. We’ve done all of the employees at National Beef. We still have a few that are out, so we’ve reported most of them. And actually we were hoping I’d have that before the press conference, the few that have been left. We just didn’t get it in time. And so we’re hoping we get that in time for when the press release goes out. So, we’ll have that today, and that’ll be the final batch from those two facilities. We’ve made 1500 tests available that have been sent to three clinics in Waterloo, so that they’re just doing it a little bit differently, but we’ll be able to, again, collect that information through the contact tracing, and be able to provide that information going forward. [crosstalk 00:32:23] Okay. Thank you. [inaudible 00:32:35] [crosstalk 00:05:57].
Speaker 8: (34:13)
Hey how are you? Nice to meet you in social distancing. [inaudible 00:34:13] [crosstalk 00:34:17]