Kim Reynolds March 25 press conference

Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks at a news conference March 25, 2020, about the state's COVID-19 response. (Pool photo by Olivia Sun/Des Moines Register)

A day after Iowa logged its first COVID-19 death, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds made it clear the state has a significant shortage of medical equipment. 

In a state in which 17.1% of the 3.2 million residents, about 547,000, are over age 65, Iowa had 280 ventilators available for new patients Wednesday and was ordering more, the governor said. But state epidemiologist Caitlin Pedati said the state had only ordered a small number because ventilators are in short supply nationally. Hospitals are looking into converting anesthesia machines into ventilators, Reynolds said.

At the same time, Reynolds said the state had 1,270 test kits available at the University of Iowa Hygienic Laboratory. Hospitals and clinics have additional tests.

“We are constantly looking for additional resources where there is a shortage,” Reynolds said. Personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves and respirators “continues to be a challenge,” she added.

The governor continued to push back on suggestions the state should be on full lockdown, or shelter in place. She said closures of schools and various businesses she’s already ordered, and firm suggestions that people stay home, accomplish the same thing. “What’s the benefit in taking that additional step?” Reynolds asked at a news conference Wednesday afternoon. 

Reynolds said tests continue to be reserved for severe cases and that 80% of people with the virus can recover by resting at home.

The limited testing in Iowa means the actual number of cases could be far higher. 

The Iowa Department of Public Health on Wednesday reported that of the 107 cases now being tracked, 71 had not been hospitalized, and 23 were in the hospital. Twelve had been discharged from the hospital. A Dubuque County resident between ages 61 and 80 years of age died, the state’s lone COVID-19 death reported as of early Wednesday afternoon. 

Iowa’s COVID-19 numbers have grown as testing has expanded, but not sharply. Each day has brought 20 or so new positive cases.

Of Iowa’s 145 confirmed cases, 39 were individuals under the age of 41, the rest were older, state health officials reported.

Reynolds said she and her staff continue to monitor metrics on hospitalizations and other data to decide if orders should be changed. She also is working with school districts to plan what actions to take the rest of the semester. Legislation signed by the governor as the pandemic unfolded allows districts to miss school days without making them up.