- Associated Press - Thursday, April 9, 2020

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - Gov. Kim Reynolds urged residents Thursday to pray for each other and take steps to fight the coronavirus outbreak individually, saying they should focus less on whether the government will order further public health interventions.

Reynolds told reporters that “sometimes everyone is getting so hung up on the metrics” guiding the state’s response, including whether local stay-at-home orders may become necessary. The governor herself has said repeatedly she is relying on that data.

But at her daily new conference, Reynolds said Iowans should focus “first and foremost” on increasing compliance with social distancing guidelines she has emphasized, including staying home whenever possible.

“If we do that, then these press conferences can be about how we can start to open things back up and get this state and this country back to some normal,” Reynolds said. “Let’s focus on what we need to be doing, what we can do by being individually responsible.”

She suggested that neighborhood watch groups could encourage compliance.

Reynolds also proclaimed Thursday a “day of prayer,” asking residents to pray for those affected by the pandemic. That gesture drew protests from advocates for the separation of church and state.

“The governor should focus on the best practices in public health to ensure the safety and well-being of all Iowans, not the practices of any religion,” Interfaith Alliance of Iowa executive director Connie Ryan said.

Reynolds has closed schools, many businesses and public places and barred social gatherings of more than 10 people. She has directed police to begin enforcing those limits.

At the same time, she’s among a small number of governors who have refused to issue any statewide or local stay-at-home orders. She has argued that Iowa’s steps are the functional equivalent of them.

Still, the state is using a point-based system to help determine whether stronger interventions may be necessary across six regions of the state. The tool calls for implementing a shelter-in-place order when a region hits 10 on a 12-point scale, which gives scores based on hospitalization and case rates and nursing home outbreaks.

The region that includes Iowa City has the highest score of 9 on the tool, which critics have argued is arbitrary, backward-looking and opaque. The region that includes Cedar Rapids, the city that’s been the hardest hit in Iowa, is a point lower.

Reynolds again declined to say what will happen when a region hits 10, saying “we have a series of next steps that we are looking at.” She said the focus should be on following social distancing practices.

The number of Iowans testing positive for COVID-19 increased by 125 on Thursday, another single-day record, bringing the total to 1,270.

Perhaps more significantly, the rate of those testing positive was 12.4 percent, the second highest rate in the last 10 days. The state added two more deaths to its official count, bringing it to 29.

Meanwhile, the Iowa Department of Public Health has ordered all 118 state hospitals to report daily statistics on the number of COVID-19 patients they have hospitalized, in intensive care and on ventilators. Under the April 3 order, hospitals are also required to report on the beds and medical equipment they have available and their supply of personal protective gear.

The department called the order an effort to obtain more timely information about the number of patients hospitalized and hospital capacity.

The department’s deputy director said that a 17 percent jump in hospitalizations reported Wednesday reflected the improved data collection, not necessarily more patients. Previously, the state relied on local health departments who were tracking patients to report their status.

The order warned hospitals and staff that they could face civil and criminal penalties for failing to comply. Department spokeswoman Amy McCoy said that language was “for awareness purposes,” saying the agency appreciates the assistance it’s getting,

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