Reynolds to let public health disaster emergency expire
Order has been in place since March of 2020
February 10, 2022
A state-ordered pandemic declaration will end next week, one month shy of its two-year anniversary.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Feb. 3 signed the final extension of the state's public health disaster emergency proclamation, announcing it will expire at 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 15. It was first issued in accordance with the governor's executive authority on March 17, 2020 to enable certain public health mitigation measures during the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Over time, it included hundreds of provisions aimed at addressing the pandemic.
The remaining 16 provisions focus primarily on lingering workforce issues exacerbated by the pandemic that are best addressed outside of emergency executive powers, according to the governor's office.
"We cannot continue to suspend duly enacted laws and treat COVID-19 as a public health emergency indefinitely," Reynolds said in statement. "After two years, it's no longer feasible or necessary. The flu and other infectious illnesses are part of our everyday lives, and coronavirus can be managed similarly. State agencies will now manage COVID-19 as part of normal daily business, and reallocate resources that have been solely dedicated to the response effort to serve other important needs for Iowans."
The expiration of Iowa's Public Health Disaster Emergency Proclamation will result in operational changes related to the COVID-19 response. The most noticeable change will be how data is reported publicly. The state's two COVID-19 websites, coronavirus.iowa.gov and vaccinateiowa.gov, will be decommissioned on Feb. 16, 2022, but information will remain accessible online through other state and federal resources.
"While our COVID-19 reporting will look different, Iowans should rest assured that the state health department will continue to review and analyze COVID-19 and other public health data daily, just as we always have," stated Kelly Garcia, director of the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH). "The new format will include data points that Iowans are used to seeing, but moves us closer to existing reporting standards for other respiratory viruses."
Garcia explained the new phase assures IDPH staffers "can return to their pre-pandemic responsibilities, and refocus on areas where the pandemic has taken a hard toll."
IDPH will report relevant COVID-19 information weekly on its website, similar to how flu activity is reported. Data will include positive tests since March 2020 and in the last seven days, cases by county, an epidemiologic curve, variants by week and deaths since March 2020. Vaccine information, including total series and boosters completed, demographics for fully vaccinated Iowans, and vaccination by county, will also be reported.
According to the governor's office, aligning the IDPH's reporting processes "will create greater efficiency for its staff while continuing to provide important information to Iowans." The new report will be available starting Feb. 16 at idph.iowa.gov.
The State of Iowa and its health care providers will also continue to report COVID-19 data as required by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC's COVID Data Tracker reports state-level data for cases, deaths, testing, vaccination and more. The site is available at coronavirus.gov or covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker.
The State Hygienic Lab will continue to operate the Test Iowa at Home program. As testing supply increases and more options for self-testing become available, the state will reassess the need for the program. For more information or to request an at-home test, visit testiowa.com.
States are not required to have a disaster proclamation in place to be eligible for federal coronavirus-related funding or resources. Iowa will continue to receive vaccine and therapeutic allocations as normal after the proclamation expires.
Reynolds' office also noted nearly half of U.S. states have already discontinued their public health proclamations, and several more are set to expire in February if they aren't renewed.
• Local reaction
Public health officials in O'Brien and Clay counties greeted the governor's announcement with a shoulder shrug.
O'Brien County Public Health Administrator Kim Morran said nothing will change for staff at the local agency.
"I do agree with [the governor's] decision to let it expire because we need to learn to live with this and move forward treating it kind of like influenza," she said. "The vaccine and the therapeutics will still be available for people, that will not change. We will continue to encourage people to get vaccinated and get their boosters."
Morran's opinion was shared a county east.
"Operationally, our response goals will not change," said Clay County Public Health Coordinator Colette Rossiter. "There have been a series of process changes as the COVID-19 pandemic has evolved over the past two years. This expiration of the state's public health proclamation has minimal impact on public health as our reporting and record-keeping processes on behalf of the Iowa Department of Public Health continue."
Like the governor, Rossiter cited the reporting of data as the biggest change for the general public. Nothing will be altered regarding vaccine access, she said.
Spencer Hospital President Bill Bumgarner noted the pandemic "will not be concluded through an executive order or an act of legislation."
"COVID-19 continues to impact the labor market, supply chains, business continuity and some of our valued life routines. As has been the case throughout the pandemic, adopting long-held public health practices proportional to infection trends, will help mitigate the risk of future variants," he said. "That is the way forward to transition from a pandemic event to a manageable disease process, such as influenza."