- Associated Press - Friday, May 1, 2020

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - On the day Iowa began easing restrictions designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Kim Reynolds said increased testing was largely the reason for a record number of new COVID-19 cases.

Health officials reported 739 new positive cases Friday, by far the most in a single day and bringing the state total to 7,884. Of the new cases, 516 were from four counties, including two that are dealing with outbreaks at meat processing plants.

Those counties are Black Hawk and Woodbury - both of which are seeing a surge of slaughterhouse cases - and the Des Moines area counties of Polk and Dallas.

Reynolds also reported an additional eight deaths, bringing the state’s total to 170.

“Because of the large number of tests we’ve conducted recently we do anticipate the overall numbers that we’ll be reporting this weekend may be higher than usual,” the governor said. “So please keep in mind that a high volume of tests conducted this week were among essential workers in communities or facilities where virus activity is high.”

Reynolds also lifted restrictions Friday on many businesses in 77 counties, most of which have none or few cases. More stringent rules remain in 22 counties, which include most of the state’s major cities.

The governor has also allowed churches to resume services, and she invited a member of the conservative Christian group The Family Leader to join her at the news conference via a video feed.

Greg Baker, vice president of church engagement, said the group considered safety when reopening houses of worship.

“We went to work with churches across Iowa to make guidelines to ensure as churches look to reopen, they would do so wisely with not only the members interest in mind but also the community,” Baker said.

After the news conference, the leader of the multi-denomination Interfaith Alliance criticized Reynolds for allowing The Family Leader spokesman to promote one religion at a government event.

“Once again, Kim Reynolds misused her elected office to promote one religion – one narrow segment of that religion, at that,” Connie Ryan, the alliance’s leader, said in a statement. “The governor must represent all Iowans and must not promote one religion over all others.”

Also Friday, former Gov. Chet Culver urged Reynolds to change her policies that are reopening the economy and supporting the quick restarting of meat processing plants where hundreds of workers have been sickened.

Culver, a Democrat who served from 2007 to 2011, said in a letter to Reynolds that the Republican governor’s policies have created an appearance “that the state’s most powerful business owners have exerted undue influence.”

He urged Reynolds “in the strongest possible terms to reconsider and realign” her approach to give workers more protections.

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