Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds today extended and expanded business closures in the state and halted elective and nonessential medical and dental procedures.

The move came after an additional 34 people tested positive for novel coronavirus, bringing the total number of cases in Iowa to 179. One person has died from the highly contagious respiratory disease.

Specifically, Reynolds, through the state’s disaster health proclamation:
– Extended to April 7 the closure of restaurants and bars. Reynolds originally had said the closures would last until April 1.
– Ordered the closure of other retail stores including bookstores, clothing and shoe stores, cosmetic shops, and furniture and home furnishing stores. The closures are effective at 10 p.m. today.
– Suspended nonessential medical and dental procedures beginning at 5 p.m. Friday. “These actions will help us preserve the personal protective equipment as well as our health care workforce,” she said.
– Ordered health care insurance companies to reimburse health care providers for telehealth visits at the same rate as in-person visits. She said she hopes the move encourages patients to use telehealth to screen and treat COVID-19.
– Ordered health care facilities, including nursing homes, to begin “enhanced staff health screenings.”

Earlier today, Iowa Workforce Development announced that nearly 42,000 new unemployment claims were filed during the week that ended Saturday. 

One-third of the new claims, or 13,364, were filed by people who worked in the accommodations and food services industries, according to the state agency. Another 4,936 new claims were from people who worked in health care and social assistance related jobs; 2,698 were in education services; and 1,710 were in the retail trades.

“The numbers we are seeing now are unprecedented but not unexpected in Iowa or states across the country,” Reynolds said during this afternoon’s news conference. “I know that these decisions [to close businesses] have an impact on families and businesses, which is why we have also worked very hard to put in place measures” that assist businesses and employees.

Beth Townsend, Iowa Workforce Development director, said the agency is receiving “tens of thousands of calls.” The agency has 250 people who are answering calls, and additional temporary workers have been hired. Those new workers, who are being trained, begin working on Monday, she said.

“We know that there will be long waits from the resulting surge that we see in claims,” Townsend said. “We ask everyone to be patient and to show us grace. We are certainly here to help. It just may take us a little longer to get to [each caller].”