Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds orders ‘partial activation’ of State Emergency Operations Center amid coronavirus concerns

There are still no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Iowa, though public-health officials are preparing for an outbreak.


Katina Zentz

Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks during the Condition of the State address at the Iowa State Capitol on Jan. 14.

Sarah Watson, Managing Editor

Gov. Kim Reynolds directed the State Emergency Operations Center in Johnston to partially activate this week in preparation of a potential novel coronavirus outbreak in Iowa.

No cases have yet been reported in Iowa, and public health officials have maintained that the risk is fairly low for the state.

“While no positive tests of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Iowa at this time, we are proactively coordinating plans across state agencies to protect the health of Iowans and assess our operational needs so we are as prepared as possible,” Reynolds said Saturday in a news release.

There are over 100,000 cases reported worldwide, and more than 150 cases and 11 deaths reported in the U.S. because of the novel coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC is urging that Americans returning from high-risk countries, including China, Iran, Italy, and South Korea, to self-isolate for 14 days.

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The State Hygienic Laboratory, based on the University of Iowa campus, is testing in Iowa for COVID-19 using materials provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention upon the Iowa Department of Public Health’s request.

The lab was slated to receive another shipment of kits to test for novel coronavirus on Wednesday, Lab Director Michael Pentella told reporters that morning, adding to around 250 test kits already on hand at the site.

According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, public-health officials have tested 17 people for the novel coronavirus, of which 15 tested negatively and two are pending.

U.S. efforts to test for coronavirus have come under scrutiny as helping the virus spread in the country after the Trump administration opted to forego using the World Health Organization test and other countries more rapidly developing their own tests.

Other countries such as South Korea have made their tests more widely available, using drive-thru clinics for citizens who suspect they may have coronavirus to take a quick test administered by medical staff in protective clothing.

President Trump on Friday signed off on an $8.3 billion emergency-aid package to fund efforts to combat and research the coronavirus in hopes of developing a vaccine for the disease.

Asked Wednesday about the criticism of testing not being widely available in the U.S., Pentella said, “I would say that the FDA has been working on that, and the changes they made this past weekend will bring more laboratories able to do this testing in the future, so I don’t think that’s a problem in Iowa at the current time.”

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Symptoms of the COVID-19 in people who have been exposed can include fever, cough and shortness of breath. The symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure.

UI Hospitals and Clinics Chief Medical Officer Theresa Brennan said the virus’ similarity to flu symptoms poses a challenge because it’s currently influenza season.

“We take our guidance from the CDC and the Iowa Department of Public Health and they are the experts in these outbreaks and infectious diseases, so they guide us and we follow their guidance,” she said.

Marissa Payne contributed to this report

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