Just one week after surpassing 400 COVID-19 deaths, Iowa hit another grim milestone in the pandemic on May 28, 2020, with a total of 500 Iowans succumbing to the novel coronavirus.
Nationwide, the death toll in the United States has surpassed 100,000.
At the same time, COVID-19 has officially been confirmed in all 99 Iowa counties, as a positive test was recorded in Decatur County, the last of the state’s counties until May 28 with no confirmed cases, though health officials have long said the virus was presumed to be circulating throughout the state.
One of Iowa’s smallest counties with an estimated 8,000 residents, Decatur County is located in far southern Iowa.
Even at her press conference today, and as much of the state reopens for business, Governor Kim Reynolds acknowledged the widespread reach of the highly transmissible virus.
“We are still in substantial spread throughout Iowa,” she said.
The high death toll comes as Reynolds allows bars, wineries and distilleries to reopen as of Thursday, May 28, following restaurants and others businesses previously allowed to reopen throughout the state.
At a press conference earlier this week, Reynolds, a Republican known for her fervent pro-life stance, said that the lives of Iowans could not be prioritized over the state’s economy.
“Our recovery is contingent on our ability to protect both the lives and the livelihoods of Iowans,” she said Tuesday, May 26. “We can’t prioritize one over the other.”
Next week, casinos, amusement parks and more will be allowed to resume.
Related: Activities allowed to resume in Iowa
Nearly half of Iowa’s COVID-19 deaths are related to outbreaks at nursing homes. As of May 28, statewide, 38 outbreaks have been reported at long-term care facilities, with 230 deaths.
With the state reporting data on a rolling basis, as of 11 a.m. May 28, Iowa had 18,522 confirmed cases of COVID-19, up 260 from the previous 24 hours. A total of 500 Iowans have died of COVID-19, according to the state’s coronavirus website, an increase of 13 from the previous 24 hours.
At 11 a.m. May 28, Iowa reported 383 COVID-19 patients hospitalized, with 112 in intensive care units, 30 admitted within the last 24 hours and 67 on ventilators.
At Gov. Reynolds’ press conference on May 28, Deputy Director Sarah Reisetter of the Iowa Department of Public Health verified that another outbreak has been confirmed at a meat processing plant.
At the Tyson pork plant in Storm Lake, 555 of its 2,517 employees tested positive for COVID-19 so far, Reisetter said.
Reporters have questioned why the state isn’t announcing outbreaks at plants as they are known, after Reisetter said earlier this week that outbreaks would only be announced if reporters ask about them.
The announcement of Tyson’s Storm Lake outbreak comes a day after a reporter asked about it.
Reisetter said businesses are not required to report outbreaks to the Iowa Department of Public Health.
Also during the press conference, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig announced a new program that will provide funding for Iowa’s pork producers to dispose of carcasses of hogs that are euthanized, as the pandemic created a backlog of pork processing when workers, many of them immigrants, have been overcome by illness at the plants.
Pork producers can apply for the funding to help them dispose of the carcasses, a process Naig said would likely continue through this summer.
When asked why the testing and contact tracing the state has touted seemed to have been ineffective at the Storm Lake plant, Reynolds again defended the process, saying testing “helps us understand the scope” and to isolate workers who test positive for COVID-19.
“Many times, they’re able to continue operating at decreased capacity,” she said of the meat processing plants, which have been connected to several deaths of Iowans.
Test Iowa, the $26 million, no-bid contract with a Utah partnership, has been criticized for delayed test results, among other concerns.
Last week, Linn County reported receiving only 20 of 823 Test Iowa results, with 16 of those results categorized as “inconclusive.”
The delay in receiving test results, as well as the high number of “inconclusive” results, put the county at a disadvantage for follow-up and contact tracing, public health officials noted.