CORONAVIRUS

Eastern Iowa officials see need for shelter-in-place orders

Gov. Kim Reynolds says local officials have authority to issue the orders

Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker delivers remarks March 16 during a news conference to address the COVID-19 virus at
Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker delivers remarks March 16 during a news conference to address the COVID-19 virus at the Cedar Rapids Public Library in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

No local directives are imminent for people in Johnson and Linn counties to shelter at home, though local officials are discussing legal ramifications and whether that would be the right thing to do to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Gov. Kim Reynolds said Monday during a news conference her staff is getting similar questions from communities in Eastern Iowa and around the state. She said local officials have the legal authority to issue such orders, and urged they coordinate with emergency management agencies and public health officials, who have access to metrics that can guide decisions.

“We are working to help provide the resources and the metrics to our local officials so they can make those decisions,” the governor said. “They do have the authority to do that.”

The governors of four states Monday issued stay-at-home orders, bringing to 12 the number of states with such orders so far. Although they vary, the orders typically direct people to stay at home except for vital tasks such as going to the grocery store or the doctor. They also let “essential” employees work outside the home.

Iowa’s total number of known coronavirus cases continues to increase, with 15 more announced Monday for a total of 105. Officials said seven people are hospitalized.

Local officials have different views on whether city-by-city or county-by-county orders to shelter at home are wise.

Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart acknowledged a local shelter-in-place order is being discussed, and that a meeting with Linn and Johnson County officials to discuss it further was possible.

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But Hart is not in favor. Instead, he wants to urge Reynolds — who on Monday remained cool to a statewide order — to take action.

He is hoping to join other mayors and officials to call for action as a unified voice. At minimum, he said he expects the city to make the ask.

“To me the state has to do this,” Hart said. “It really needs to be statewide to be effective.”

Local orders leave open the possibility that each jurisdiction would have its own definition of an “essential” service. And it’s possible that a county without a shelter in place order would see an influx of visitors from other communities.

“It will just create mass confusion,” Hart said of a county-by-county or city-by-city approach.

Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker, however, said a local order is “under strong consideration and could happen this week.” He cited data he said supports the impact a shelter-in-place order can have on reducing the number of people who would need hospitalization.

“I am supportive,” he said, but noted it would have limited impact for the county to establish such an order without population centers of Cedar Rapids and Marion on board.

Cedar Rapids City Manager Jeff Pomeranz said a decision should be made soon after public conversations of the pros and cons involving decision-makers from local jurisdictions. He said based on advice from public health officials, a shelter-in-place order could be beneficial for the area, but additional study is needed.

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Steve O’Konek, coordinator of the Linn County Emergency Management Agency, said a meeting on the matter is being discussed but has not been formalized.

Johnson County officials are looking at what circumstances would trigger such an order.

“We’re not doing a line in the sand,” said Johnson County Emergency Management Coordinator Dave Wilson, indicating an order would not come at a set date in time. “It’s going to be based on science.”

Wilson said a meeting was being scheduled to determine what metrics or “trigger points” would lead to a shelter-in-place order. Those metrics would be determined in coordination with local hospitals and local and state public health officials, Wilson said.

Cedar Rapids City Council member Ashley Vanorny said she supports investigating the issue further.

“Without a doubt, you want to establish ‘shelter in place’ before the virus hits, not when it hits,” she said, adding local health care experts are suggesting now is the time to act.

Cedar Rapids Council member Dale Todd would like to see the governor take action, but if not he would be open to exploring a local order.

“As a council we have yet to make the decision but we are listening to our liaisons at both hospitals who today expressed their concern that there are still too many people out and about and not heeding the advice” of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he said. “They have legitimate concerns about capacity and now is the time to make a difference. Personally, I would encourage the governor to err on the side of safety sooner rather than later and issue a declaration to shelter in place.”

Marion Mayor Nick AbouAssaly said his city officials, too, are considering the option.

“We need to weigh it at the right time and make sure it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “It’s not something I’m going to do on my own without consulting the other council members, law enforcement and making sure it’s done at the appropriate time if we do something like that. At this point we’re not planning to, but things are changing every day.”

There have been no deaths associated with the global COVID-19 outbreak in Iowa. Also, a total of 2,043 tests have produced negative results, which includes testing reported by the State Hygienic Lab and other labs, according to a daily IDPH update issued Monday forenoon.

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According to Iowa health officials, here are the locations and age ranges of the 15 individuals added to the overall list Monday:

• Allamakee County, one adult (18-40 years);

• Dubuque County, one adult (18-40 years), one older adult (61-80 years);

• Hancock County, two older adults (61-80 years);

• Johnson County, one middle-aged adult (41-60 years), two older adults (61-80 years);

• Linn County, one adult (18-40 years), one middle-aged adult (41-60 years);

• Muscatine County, one middle-aged adult (41-60 years);

• Polk County, one adult (18-40 years), one middle-aged adult (41-60 years);

• Wapello County, one older adult (61-80 years);

• And Woodbury County, one middle-aged adult (41-60 years)

Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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