Nearly 10% of the more than 224,000 people who work in Iowa’s health care and social assistance sector have filed initial unemployment claims since mid-March, a review of Iowa Workforce Development data shows.

Many of the 22,058 newly jobless health care and social assistance workers were likely employed in small or private clinics that were ordered closed because of the pandemic, Iowa Workforce Development Director Beth Townsend said during a recent interview with the Business Record. Others may have worked in outpatient clinics or were support staff, she said.

“If you’re an office worker in a private clinic, that would be counted as a health care worker even though you may not be a health care worker specifically but you work in that industry,” Townsend said. “There have been some hospitals that also have done some layoffs in the areas that support their elective surgeries or in areas that they’re not practicing currently.”

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, in a state public health emergency declaration, halted all nonessential or elective surgeries and procedures effective at 5 p.m. March 27. The order was a way to preserve much needed personal protective equipment needed for front-line health care workers caring for patients with or suspected of having the novel coronavirus, which has caused the deaths of 43 Iowans. The equipment is also needed for emergency responders.

In 2018, the health care and social assistance sector was Iowa’s largest employment area with 14.5% of jobs, or 224,015 jobs, according to Iowa Workforce Development’s 2019 industry profile. In addition to nurses, occupations in the sector include nursing assistants, personal care and home health aides, medical assistants, office clerks, medical secretaries, receptionists, dental assistants, and radiologic technologists.

Overall, 167,677 Iowans have filed initial unemployment claims since the week ending March 21, the first week of forced business closures due to the pandemic. Twenty percent, or 33,006, of the newly unemployed workers had worked in the restaurant, bar and lodging industries, records show. Another 13%, or 22,058, of the newly jobless had been working in health care and social assistance, and 10%, or 16,386, in manufacturing.

Once restrictions are lifted, Townsend said she is hopeful dental offices, clinics and other closed medical facilities will reopen and bring back their workers.

“I would assume that those clinics will recall staffs,” she said.