Reynolds to end COVID-19 disaster proclamation

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Governor Kim Reynolds gives the condition of the state address to members of the Iowa Legislature inside the House Chamber, on Tuesday evening, Jan. 11, 2022, at the State Capitol, in Des Moines. photo by Kelsey Kremer/The Des Moines Register)
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The state will also shut down its coronavirus tracking and vaccine websites

By Jared Strong, Iowa Capital Dispatch

Iowa’s official disaster status for the coronavirus pandemic will end in less than two weeks, Gov. Kim Reynolds said Thursday.

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She first issued the public health disaster emergency proclamation in March 2020 — in the days after the State Hygienic Laboratory identified the virus in the state — and has extended it many times until now.

“We cannot continue to suspend duly enacted laws and treat COVID-19 as a public health emergency indefinitely,” Reynolds said in a prepared statement. “After two years, it’s no longer feasible or necessary.”

The disaster proclamation was an important tool to shift state resources to public health priorities and enable the governor to shut down schools and businesses and require masks inside public places. Reynolds said she doesn’t need emergency executive powers at this point in the pandemic to manage it.

The proclamation is now set to expire Feb. 15.

The announcement came about two weeks after the state’s infection rate reached an all-time peak. The average number of confirmed cases each day has been declining since but remains significantly higher than it’s been for most of the pandemic.

Reynolds is not concerned that residents will view the virus as less serious because she let the proclamation expire because “Iowans have been managing COVID for nearly two years,” said Alex Murphy, her spokesperson.

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State will shut down vaccine finder and coronavirus tracking sites

The state will also shut down its Vaccinate Iowa website — which helps people find COVID-19 vaccine providers — and its coronavirus website that tracks infections, hospitalizations, deaths, vaccinations and long-term care outbreaks, although the information had previously been scaled back and death reports are now significantly delayed.

Kelly Garcia, director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, said state resources devoted to maintaining the coronavirus website can be more effective for other, unspecified work. And she defended the website against criticisms of inaccuracy by touting a recent report by the state auditor that found the site’s data was “supported by lab results,” and that delays in test results were not the fault of her department.

However, Auditor Rob Sand’s report on Monday also recommended the state update the site daily — as it did earlier in the pandemic — rather than three times each week.

“With the emergence of new COVID-19 variants, it is important comprehensive data be readily available to the public and officials of entities such as school districts and long-term care facilities for purposes of analysis and decision-making,” a summary of the report said.

Shutting down the site was not among the report’s recommendations.

Garcia declined in an interview with reporters to say whether she asked Reynolds to extend the emergency proclamation further.

“We had lots of discussions about what the impacts of ending it would be and made accommodations to make sure that the most important pieces of the minimal provisions that exist in the declaration today have a smooth transition,” Garcia said.

Weekly reports of COVID-19 tests, deaths and prevalent variants will appear on IDPH’s website. Residents will be required to go elsewhere to find information about hospitalizations and long-term care facility outbreaks.

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