May 26, 2020
Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript May 26
Governor Kim Reynolds of Iowa held a coronavirus press conference May 26. Reynolds announced more business & venue openings for June 1. Read her full update speech here.
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Kim Reynolds: (00:01)
Well, good morning. Last week, more than 28,000 Iowans were tested for a COVID-19. 6,146 tests were done at Test Iowa locations, after announcing that testing criteria would be open so that any Iowan who wanted to be tested could be. We had our highest Test Iowa day yet on Friday with 2,114 individuals tested. On Sunday, 4,907 tests were processed at the state hygienic lab, only 93 away from meeting our full capacity of 5,000 tests a day. As testing continues to increase, the number of Iowans testing positive continues to trend down. In late April, we saw our average positivity rate climb as high as 30% while we were conducting a significant amount of targeted surveillance testing at longterm care facilities and manufacturing employees in communities where we knew that there was an increase in virus activity. Now that we’ve opened up Test Iowa to anyone, regardless of whether they have symptoms or a known exposure, we expect to see negative cases continue to outnumber the positive because people who are worried about having the virus, but are otherwise healthy will still can still opt to be tested.
Kim Reynolds: (01:18)
Today, our average positivity rate over time has dropped to 13.1% and our rate yesterday was 6.3%. 9,403 Iowans who tested positive for COVID-19 have now recovered from the virus for a recovery rate of 53% and 42% of longterm care staff and residents who tested positive have also recovered from the virus. In communities across the state, there are signs that life is starting to get back to normal. The most welcome one of all is the “We’re open” sign hanging in the windows of local businesses. Since May 1st, Iowa businesses have gradually reopened with limited capacity and according to specific public health guidance designed to protect customers, employees, and communities. From restaurants and fitness centers to salons and barbershops, business owners are taking their responsibility to protect the public seriously, and often, they are going above and beyond what’s required of them to ensure that their employees feel safe and to instill confidence in their customers.
Kim Reynolds: (02:24)
Friday was the first time in weeks that Iowans had the opportunity to go to a movie. Even though the experience will be different for awhile, it’s one that many people have been looking forward to. Today, I’ve invited Russ Vannorsdel from Fridley Theaters to join me and share their COVID experience, including what they did to prepare for opening weekend at two of their theaters and how they plan to get Iowans back to the movies. Hi Russ, thanks so much for joining us today.
Russ Vannorsdel: (02:53)
Good morning, Governor, and thanks for having me with you today. It’s my pleasure to be joining you from the Palms theaters and IMAX in Waukee. As you’re aware, it’s been a difficult time for many businesses in Iowa over the last several months. This period has been particularly difficult for movie theaters since the mandated closure on March 17th. Bridgeway theaters is Iowa-based, family-owned, and the only local theater chain in the state. Our owner and founder, Robert Fridley, turned 103 years old in March and has been in the industry since the mid thirties. He and his family have seen many things in the past 90 years, but forced closure for months is something new, even to them. We, like most businesses in the state, were concerned about how we would survive without guests coming to our theaters. Fortunately, the Federal CARES Act and state assistance help us feel more comfortable with the path forward.
Russ Vannorsdel: (03:52)
Just as Mr. Fridley did in the 90 years previous, we got to work, began brainstorming a way to persevere through this unprecedented time. Fridley Theaters made that early decision to continue paying and providing full benefits to all our salaried employees. For the first few weeks, our management teams were thoroughly cleaning theaters and working on project lists that have accumulated, but we quickly understood the COVID-19 world was going to be around for awhile. Therefore, we began the Fridley … excuse me, Fridley Theaters Curbside Popcorn To Go Program at all of our locations. This program was met with overwhelming support from our communities throughout the state. The popularity provided us with a source of revenue and allowed us to bring back more hourly employees. I’m proud of our Popcorn To Go Program and its continued success over the last seven weeks. Thank you, Iowa communities, for supporting Fridley in this way.
Russ Vannorsdel: (04:49)
Now we’re planning for the next chapter. Last Wednesday, you announced that movie theaters could begin to reopen for Memorial Day weekend throughout the state. Of course, we were pleased with the decision, but we recognized immediately that we have a tremendous responsibility in doing so. As you know, Governor, we’ve been working to develop a plan that allows us to safely reopen our theaters across the state. With the help of your office and in conjunction with resources from the CDC, the Iowa Department of Public Health, the National Association of Theater Owners, and our exhibitor friends in Texas who’ve been operating for the last couple of weeks, we created a comprehensive best practice approach to combating the virus in our cinemas. This list of policies and procedures is the foundation for operations as we began to reopen, and we’ve been diligently training our management teams on the new protocol.
Russ Vannorsdel: (05:42)
We also felt it important to demonstrate to the public our sincere commitment to the health and safety of our communities. Therefore, we drafted our commitment to our communities pledge. This document can be found at fridleytheaters.com and our social media channels. Within this pledge, we make a promise to protect our guests, employees, communities, and outline several basic strategies to keep everyone safe in our theater. First, we ask our guests to be responsible. Stay home if you’re sick or been exposed to COVID-19, limit groups to a maximum of six people, accompany and closely supervised children, utilize credit cards for contactless payments, practice social distancing in all areas. We also encourage guests to wear face covering, but we will not require them for admit.
Russ Vannorsdel: (06:38)
Second, our theaters and staff will frequently clean, sanitize, and disinfect high contact surfaces. We’ll provide hand sanitizer at each station and throughout the building. We’ll require all staff members to wear face covering. We’ll implement social distancing measures by having floor … excuse me, floor markings and signs to remind guests to stay six feet apart. We’ll also utilize ushers in each auditorium to greet and seat group six foot apart. We’ll schedule showtimes further apart to keep our lobby, concession stands, and other common areas free of congestion. This extra time in between shows will also allow us to thoroughly clean, disinfect, and sanitize our auditorium.
Russ Vannorsdel: (07:23)
With only a couple of days notice, we were not able to reopen all our Fridley locations throughout this state for Memorial Day weekend. We felt prepared, but we didn’t want to rush into reopening everywhere. Rather, we selected two locations, a fiveplex in Carroll and a threeplex in Cherokee that opened over the holiday weekend. We did so to learn how operations would perform in our new environment and to ease ourselves and guests back into the movie-going experience. With minimal time to promote movie titles and showtimes, attendance was limited, but the guests that visited were excited to get back a little piece of normalcy and be transported into the world of movie-going again.
Russ Vannorsdel: (08:03)
We look forward to reopening the remainder of our Iowa theaters this Friday, May 29th. It’ll be a long road back for our industry. Many studios have moved their Hollywood product out of the early summer. In fact, the first two major releases scheduled are Christopher Nolan’s Tenet on July 17th and Disney’s live action remake of Mulan, which had originally been scheduled for earlier this year and will now open on July 24.
Russ Vannorsdel: (08:31)
In the meantime, we look forward to bringing you some of your favorite older titles back to the theater. How awesome will it be to see classics like Indiana Jones or Star Wars on the big screen again, or in an IMAX? Governor Reynolds, we’re thankful to reopen. We do not take this opportunity lightly. It is our promise to you and the residents of the state of Iowa that we’ll do so in a safe manner. I also want to thank you, your staff, and everybody at the state level, working to navigate this unprecedented pandemic. I know the decisions have been difficult, but we appreciate the leadership. Thank you.
Kim Reynolds: (09:08)
Thanks, Russ. And I am so incredibly impressed with the plan that you and your team at Fridley Theaters put in place for your reopening. You’re doing all the right things to make Iowans feel confident about returning to the movies. And I love that you’re playing some of the classics on the big screen, while we await the new releases. So keep up the good work, and I look forward to more Fridley Theaters opening across Iowa soon. So thank you for all that you’re doing. I appreciate it very much.
Kim Reynolds: (09:39)
Iowa is on the road to recovery. For some businesses like Fridley Theaters, recovery has meant starting small, creating a new type of customer experience, building confidence in it, and then continuing to reopen on a larger scale. For some families, recovery means an opportunity to go back to work and to have the dignity of earning a paycheck again, get kids back into a normal routine, or simply reconnect with family members and friends. For our state, recovery means striking a balance between getting life and business back to normal, while continuing to manage the virus activity. Our recovery is contingent upon our ability to protect both the lives and livelihoods of Iowans. We can’t prioritize one over the other. We must prioritize both to move forward.
Kim Reynolds: (10:27)
We know that COVID-19 will continue to be a part of our lives for a while. And we know that Iowans are willing and able to take personal responsibility to protect themselves and others. And we know that social distancing works. And we know that together, we can continue to move ahead safely and responsibly. So today I’m announcing that the existing disaster emergency proclamation will be extended through June 25th. And I’m making some changes to public health measures that we have had in place.
Kim Reynolds: (10:59)
As I announced last week, effective on May 28th, bars, wineries, breweries, distilleries, and other social or fraternal clubs may reopen, following the same public health measures as restaurants, including limiting normal operating capacity to 50% and social distance in groups of six feet. Live bands or other musical performers are now permitted at bars and restaurants, but must also follow social distancing protocols with members of the group and the audience. And restaurants and bars may now set party sizes of up to 10 people.
Kim Reynolds: (11:34)
And effective next Monday, June 1st, additional businesses may reopen. Speedways and racetracks can open events to spectators. Outdoor performance venues, such as amphitheaters and grand stands, can hold live performances. Casinos and gaming facilities may reopen, as well as amusement parks, bowling alleys, pool halls, and arcades, all at 50% of normal operating capacity and according to social distancing, hygiene, and public health measures. Also effective on June 1st, social community, recreational, leisure, and sports gatherings of more than 10 people will be permitted again. Groups and individuals attending the gatherings must maintain six feet social distancing, and venues are limited to 50% of normal operating capacity or the level necessary to maintain adequate distancing, and also must follow social distancing, hygiene, and public health measures.
Kim Reynolds: (12:32)
This proclamation also permits practices, games, and competitions for youth and adult baseball, softball, and individual sports, such as running, biking, swimming, tennis, and golf to resume with appropriate social distancing hygiene and public health measures in place. Lifting this restriction means extended families and friends can gather together, but that privilege comes with responsibility of ensuring you’re doing the right thing to protect your health and the health of the people you care about. I’ve asked Sarah Reester to provide some additional information about the rationale for the change and what that means for Iowans.
Sarah Reester: (13:14)
Thank you, Governor Reynolds and good morning. I appreciate the opportunity this morning to talk about how Iowans can keep themselves, their families, and their employees healthy, as more businesses open in the next week. As we have continually reminded Iowans that are over 65 or who have underlying health conditions should continue to stay home as much as possible. All Iowans should continue to practice good social distancing, when out and about, wear masks or other cloth face coverings when social distancing is not possible. Should continue staying home when you’re not feeling well, seeking health care when appropriate, and continuing to practice good hygiene like covering coughs and sneezes and washing hands and using hand sanitizer continue to be incredibly important.
Sarah Reester: (13:59)
As more places began to reopen, Governor Reynolds has allowed this, while also requiring public health mitigation measures to remain in place. So while businesses are being allowed to open, they’re also being required to do so in a responsible way that promotes social distancing within the establishments and venues. Please pay attention to and follow the restrictions that are in place when you visit these establishments, to keep yourself and others as safe as possible. You can continue to find guidance and updates at coronavirus.iowa.gov. So please watch for additional information there.
Sarah Reester: (14:38)
As Governor Reynolds has said, we are all continuing to adjust to what life with COVID-19 will be like, as we continue to move through this pandemic. We know this is a difficult time, and Iowans need to continue to be responsible in taking care of their own health, as well as protecting the health of our communities. I sincerely appreciate the governor’s regular reminders that as Iowans, we need to be accepting of one another’s choices and our individual decisions and needs. And again, if you’re not feeling well, or if you’ve been diagnosed or in close contact with anyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, you need to stay home and follow the advice of your healthcare provider and public health agency. With that, I’ll turn it back to you, Governor.
Kim Reynolds: (15:19)
I lost my page there. Thank you, Sarah. Greatly appreciate your thoughtful recommendations, as we continue through our recovery phase in a very measured and responsible way. Many of the other public health measures for businesses that have already reopened will remain in place, and businesses that remain closed will continue to be closed through June 17th. I will continue to evaluate in the coming weeks whether any of these measures should be adjusted further.
Kim Reynolds: (15:50)
Finally, the disaster emergency proclamation has also provided significant regulatory relief to businesses and individuals over the course of this crisis. While some relief will continue for another 30 days, some other components-
Kim Reynolds: (16:03)
… will phase out at 11:59 PM tomorrow, including the moratorium on foreclosures and evictions and other debt collection activities. I know that some Iowans who have experienced a reduction in income due to COVID-19 may have difficulty paying their rent or mortgage payments in the months to come. To provide continued relate to those family families, I will be allocating funding through the state’s allocation of the federal CARES Act funds for the creation of a COVID-19 eviction and foreclosure prevention program, which will be administered by the Iowa Finance Authority. The program applies to residential evictions and foreclosures, and will be available to eligible Iowans who have experienced a documented loss of income due to COVID-19 and are unable to pay their rent or mortgage payment. Eligibility information will be available soon, including income limitations and the types of assistance that’s available and how to apply.
Kim Reynolds: (17:02)
For Iowans that are able to pay their rent or mortgage payments, this is a reminder that you should be making your payments as usual. The moratorium was not a freeze on payments, but rather a necessary public health protection to ensure that Iowans were able to stay in their homes at the height of the emergency. And with that, we’ll open it up for questions.
Speaker 1: (17:24)
Governor, this fund for evictions and foreclosures, is this something that is already going to be available starting tomorrow or the day after when this expires, or is there a lag time in between?
Kim Reynolds: (17:35)
Well, there’s not much of a lag time. So we’ll have Director Durham probably in for a press conference on Thursday. I believe she’ll have it available on Friday. So we’re just working through some of the final details. But Iowans will not experience any lag time because of the timing of it, so we’ll have it up and ready to go. They’re close to having it complete right now. At one of our press conferences, we’ll provide the details and the information that Iowans are looking for in order to apply.
Speaker 1: (18:02)
So are you saying it’d be before June 1st, you think it will be ready or-
Kim Reynolds: (18:05)
Yeah, I said this week, it’s either Wednesday or Thursday, Debbie will come and will give you the details, and that we anticipate it being ready for Iowans on Friday.
Speaker 1: (18:19)
And then you’ve talked a bit about how you believe the state now has the ability to if you see spikes in certain places in the state, to go in and test people and contact trace and all that. And we have seen some spikes in counties like Crawford, and Wapello, and Buena Vista, and Sioux counties in the past couple weeks, and I guess I’m wondering, beyond going in and testing more people and setting up those test Iowa sites, what else is the state doing to try to contain, you know, there’s hundreds of cases there. So what is the state trying to do to contain there? And also are there any business outbreaks in those areas that are driving back?
Kim Reynolds: (18:57)
So, well that’s a part of the whole process. First of all, you need to be able to have the testing in order to do that. We’ve been able to significantly increase our testing capacity, which was the number one perspective in order to be able to open Iowa up, to meet the needs of Iowans, and to really make sure that we could monitor the virus activity across the state. So we’re still doing a lot of surveillance testing. We’re still going into some hotspots. We’re working with manufacturers and processing facilities, as well as long-term care facilities, to make sure that we can get in front of it and be proactive to start to understand what the scope of the virus is, who’s testing positive, who’s testing negative, how we isolate the individuals that have tested positive and get them on a road to recovery, so we can start to address that from a business perspective in a proactive manner.
Kim Reynolds: (19:48)
So that is happening across the state. We also said last week, as we start to see the number of people testing diminish, and as we’re watching virus activity across the state, the Department of Public Health and the epi team are providing information to our team on where we should move those testing sites next. And so that’s a part of the conversation that we have daily and weekly as we manage and make test sites available for Iowans. The other thing that we’re also doing in conjunction with that are the strike teams, where we go into individual counties and work with the communities. We’ve seen tremendous community collaboration like we highlighted in Dubuque, where a community is, again, working with us to proactively provide testing so that they can understand what’s happening in their community, and they can respond in a responsible manner and get people, get them recovered and healthy, and continue to manage virus activity in their communities.
Speaker 2: (20:46)
Governor, will smoking still be allowed in the casinos that open?
Kim Reynolds: (20:50)
Yeah, we’re not changing any of that. We had to put in place mitigation efforts in order to protect our most vulnerable Iowans, to manage our healthcare resources, to flatten the curve, and to prevent overwhelming the healthcare systems. As we’ve met that criteria and moved into the recovery phase, and Iowans are being personally responsible, and you’ve heard businesses, they’re unbelievable lengths that they’re going to to make sure that they’re protecting their employees, and that they’re protecting their customers, we’ll start to ease some of the restrictions that we put in place so that we can continue to not only protect the health of Iowans, but their livelihood and start to open our businesses and our economy back up.
Kim Reynolds: (21:35)
So that’s what I have control over, the mitigation efforts that we put in place as we start to ease those, and really continue to monitor the effects of easing the restrictions and how that impacts our continuing to move forward.
Speaker 3: (21:52)
As restrictions on who can get tested are lifted, and now you were saying 28,000 Iowans were tested last week for COVID-19, and as more restrictions are being lifted on June 1st, I’m curious, how is the state going to be able to identify when spikes are occurring to be able to make the decision to put restrictions back in place? I know you had just mentioned the 13.1% positive rate for testing, but what’s the data behind being able to identify spikes that can, or will, or could possibly occur even with the large amount of Iowans that are now going to be allowed to be tested?
Kim Reynolds: (22:38)
Yeah, well, that’s great because that really helps us monitor it on a statewide perspective. When you think about it, in March, we tested 7,884 Iowans. In April, we tested 42,000 Iowans. And through Friday, in May, we tested 84,023 Iowans. So the capacity, it’s encouraging to see our ability to really meet the needs of Iowans that want to get tested. And we got to stop looking at the numbers, at the positive. We got to look trends. We got to look at 14-day trends. We got to look at three-day trends. We’ve got to look at hospitalization trends. We’ve got to look at positivity. We’ve got to look at days to spread, days to double. And if you look at all of those criteria that I just mentioned, all of them are trending downward. So that tells us that we can continue to open up. We can continue to provide testing to Iowans, and really, the really, really important component of that is the case investigation and the contact tracing.
Kim Reynolds: (23:34)
So that allows us to get in there, and again, identify the positive cases from the testing that we’re able to implement, and then start to figure out who they’ve been in contact with, so we can get in front of it, make them aware that they’ve potentially been exposed to somebody that tested positive, so they’re aware, and that they’re monitoring that if they want to self-isolate at home, they can for 14 days, but if they’re out in public, they should social distance, and for sure they should wear a mask, and if they start to exhibit symptoms and they absolutely should isolate themselves. So we’re also able to look at data on-
Kim Reynolds: (24:03)
… on a real time. That’s something else that Test Iowa has been able to bring to the table. Not only a comprehensive case management system, real time data, a website that every day is providing more and more information to Iowans and our ability to manage an uptick, a cluster, maybe a little bit of a spike so that we can get in there and figure out what’s going on. Sometimes it’s because we’re actually proactively, and strategically, in a County testing areas that we think potentially might be a hotspot to get some sense of if there is additional virus activity there, what is the scope and how do we maintain it and contain it so that we can protect Iowans in the long run?
Kim Reynolds: (24:45)
Okay. What was your followup?
Speaker 4: (24:47)
So is there a specific threshold that the state is going to be considering if we start to see any spikes at all?
Kim Reynolds: (24:57)
We’re going to continue to look at trends. We’re going to look at three day, 14 day, hospitalization. If we see any type of a surge that might impact our ability to take care of Iowans, those with COVID-19 symptoms, and those without, then that potentially could be a point where we would have to say, do we need to take a look at what’s happening here? Do we need to possibly take additional actions? But for the most part, all indicators that we’re looking at and monitoring, when we look at trends it’s positive, and Iowans, you’re a big part of that. So keep doing what you’re doing. You’re being personally responsible, businesses are doing the right thing, and because of that, we’re going to continue to move forward and we’re going to get our lives back to normal or some normalcy.
Kim Reynolds: (25:44)
So I’m just want to encourage Iowans to keep doing the great work that they’re doing. When you’re out and about, social distance. If you can’t social distance, make sure you have a face covering with you. Again, just a tremendous shout out to our businesses out there who are being so responsible and taking care of their employees as well as their customers. So I think, together, we’re going to continue to do what Iowans always do, and we’re going to continue to do the right thing. We’re going to continue to be responsible and we’re going to continue to open this state back up.
Speaker 5: (26:12)
Kay Anderson, Radio Iowa. Kay? We’ll come back-
Kay Anderson: (26:21)
Governor, this is Kay. On the website you list the 37 longterm care facilities as having outbreaks currently. I’m not finding manufacturing plants and food production facility outbreaks. I’m wondering if additional ones have been identified since [Sarah Reisetter 00:26:42] last told us at news conference several days ago?
Kim Reynolds: (26:46)
Do we have any additional?
Speaker 6: (26:47)
Yeah, there are two farms.
Kim Reynolds: (26:49)
Oh, do you want to go ahead then? I’m not …
Speaker 6: (26:51)
Sorry, I didn’t bring the numbers with me, but we have confirmed two additional outbreaks at Perdue Farms, one in Sioux Center and one in Sioux City. I didn’t bring the actual numbers of cases, those are both smaller facilities, but I will get that information to Pat following the news conference and he can follow up. Thanks.
Speaker 5: (27:10)
Caroline. Go ahead.
Just to follow up to Kay’s question. Is there going to be any effort to have a place on the website where you can find that information? Because I know that you guys said that Dr. Pedati determined 10% of a business being infected as the threshold for reporting that information. But so far in the subsequent outbreaks that you guys have mentioned, it’s taken a reporter asking about it to get that information. So I’m wondering if there’s going to be a place where that information will be updated so Iowans can see it?
Kim Reynolds: (27:52)
We can take a look at that. So right now there isn’t, but I trust the media to do their job and continue to ask the questions, but we’re being as transparent as we can and providing Iowans with about as much information as we can. So our goal, Caroline, is to be transparent and the media will do their part and we’ll do ours, and we’ll try to provide Iowans with the information they’re looking for.
Speaker 5: (28:12)
We’ve got time for two more questions, Chris, KCCI.
Governor, you sit on the fair board, Minnesota has decided to cancel it’s state fair, do you think Iowa should follow suit?
Kim Reynolds: (28:27)
Well, I do sit on the fair board, but the Lieutenant governor is actually my representative on the State Fair board. So I am setting up a call with them this week, I haven’t had an opportunity to sit down and talk to them to see what they’re looking at or what they’re thinking about moving forward. So I know they’ve been trying to wait to see how Iowa responds to our continuing to open up our economy. So we’ll have an opportunity to visit with them this week and see if I can answer any questions that they may have and really listen to them and see what they’re considering as they move forward with making a decision on the Iowa State Fair. So I look forward to having that conversation with them this week.
Speaker 5: (29:08)
Last question. The Des Moines Register.
Speaker 7: (29:11)
Thanks governor. A couple of questions regarding the evictions part of the proclamation. As of the middle of last week, there were nearly 700 eviction hearings set across the state after the moratorium, and some people we’ve talked to expect there could be more filed. As of last week, there were nearly 190,000 people on unemployment. Just why is now the right time to lift the moratorium and how much money is going to be allocated to the program? Will there be enough for everyone who needs help to get it?
Kim Reynolds: (29:34)
Yeah, well, that’s why we’re shifting to a different manner in which that we’re dealing with this. So Debi will be in later this week and she’ll walk through the details of what that looks like. Then we’ll take a look at the numbers and take a look at who qualifies, and then we’ll set aside the appropriate amount of funding to meet the needs of Iowans during this really difficult time. So we’re just changing the parameters in we’re providing the assurance that individuals aren’t thrown out of their homes in these really difficult times. So I look forward to having Director Durham come to one of the press conferences and get more details. They’re still working through and finalizing some of the details. So we’ll be sure and get that to Iowans either Thursday or Friday of this week.
Speaker 5: (30:15)
Kim Reynolds: (30:15)