Iowa concealed COVID-19 testing help for well-connected firms

State officials deployed “strike teams” involving the Iowa National Guard to more businesses last year than previously acknowledged.

Records the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) released on April 26 show seventeen workplaces received COVID-19 testing assistance through a strike team. The agency had stated in January that only ten workplaces (operated by nine companies) had strike team visits. Several newly-disclosed events benefited businesses linked to Governor Kim Reynolds’ major campaign donors.

Iowa used the strike teams mostly during the spring of 2020, when COVID-19 testing supplies were scarce. However, a strike team was sent to Iowa Select Farms administrative headquarters in mid-July, more than five weeks after the state had stopped providing testing help to other business. That company’s owners are Reynolds’ largest campaign contributors.

The governor asserted at a January news conference that the state had facilitated coronavirus testing for more than 60 companies, saying no firm was denied assistance. The newly-released records show nineteen businesses received testing kits from the state, and another nineteen were directed to a nearby Test Iowa site where their employees could schedule appointments.

The public health department’s spokesperson Sarah Ekstrand has not explained why she provided incomplete information about the strike team program in January. Nor has she clarified what criteria state officials used to determine which companies received which kind of testing assistance.

The governor’s spokesperson Pat Garrett did not respond to any of Bleeding Heartland’s emails on this subject. Reynolds walked away when I tried to ask her about the strike team decisions at a media gaggle on April 28.

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Iowa turned down $95 million to test school kids for COVID-19

Governor Kim Reynolds revealed on April 29 that she is sending back $95 million in federal funds designated for testing students for COVID-19.

During a Fox News event featuring Republican governors, Reynolds said of President Joe Biden,

I think he thinks the COVID just started. I just returned 95 million dollars because they sent an additional 95 million dollars to the state of Iowa to get our kids back in the classroom by doing surveillance testing. And I said, “We’ve been in the classroom since August. Here’s your 95 million dollars back.”

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States must apply for federal exemption when authorizing use of cannabis

Carl Olsen is the founder of Iowans for Medical Marijuana. -promoted by Laura Belin

Don’t be fooled by quasi-legal schemes to tax and regulate cannabis. There is a federal solution for doing this the right way.

If legislators tell you it makes their eyes glass over, tell them to leave the capitol and don’t come back until they are sober. They should not be legislating unless they can clearly see the road ahead.

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Iowa reports dozens of "new" COVID-19 deaths from 2020

Iowa’s official COVID-19 website added 68 more deaths over the weekend, bringing the state’s death toll to 5,822 (roughly one out of every 540 Iowans who was alive before the pandemic). The large increase was surprising; COVID-19 hospitalizations have been trending upward in recent weeks, but haven’t risen sharply enough to produce dozens of fatalities in just a few days.

It turns out that most of the newly reported deaths occurred more than three months ago.

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Racial disparities narrow in Iowa's COVID-19 vaccinations

As Iowa prepares to expand COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to all adults on April 5, racial and ethnic disparities in the state’s vaccination rates have narrowed slightly since Bleeding Heartland last reviewed this data four weeks ago. However, people of color have still received far fewer vaccine doses per capita, compared to white Iowans.

At least 1,588,117 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered to Iowa residents, according to the state’s vaccination dashboard on April 4. At least 662,885 Iowans have received all required doses of a COVID-19 vaccine (that is, two shots of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or a single shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine). Another 368,646 Iowans “have received one dose of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine series, but have not completed the series.”

Breaking down the numbers by race and ethnicity, it’s apparent that Iowa has a long way to go to achieve equity in vaccine distribution.

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Twelve facts about Iowa's staggering COVID-19 death toll

Kathy Davis passed away on March 24, 2020, having fallen ill shortly after an overseas vacation with her husband. The Iowa Department of Public Health later determined that the retired community college counselor from Dubuque was the first Iowan to die of the novel coronavirus.

One year later, the state’s official website shows that 5,689 Iowans have died of COVID-19. The real death toll is somewhat higher, since the process of confirming and reporting coronavirus deaths usually involves weeks of delay. In addition, some Iowans who died in the early weeks of the pandemic may not have had a positive test during their illness.

This post attempts to put Iowa’s coronavirus fatality numbers into context. But since statistics don’t convey the loss that thousands of families have experienced, I hope readers will take time to reflect on those who have passed. The Dubuque Telegraph-Herald’s Bennet Goldstein wrote about Kathy Davis and her widower Chuck’s journey of bereavement. The Carroll Times Herald’s Jared Strong covered the aftermath of a card game among friends in Crawford County. Newspaper reporters from around the state have profiled hundreds of the dead as part of the Iowa Mourns series, available on the Des Moines Register’s website. One of those featured was Jay Daniels, a longtime family friend whose funeral we couldn’t attend, due to COVID safety protocols.

Bereavement on this scale is hard to fathom, especially in a culture some might call “grief-illiterate,” where death is often “unseen and denied.” Even so, it’s worth looking at the numbers.

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