CORONAVIRUS

Gov. Reynolds: Cities, counties don't have authority to issue shelter at home order

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds announces updates on COVID-19 at the State Emergency Operations Center in Johnston, IA Thursday,
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds announces updates on COVID-19 at the State Emergency Operations Center in Johnston, IA Thursday, March 26, 2020 Thursday, March 26, 2020. (Zach Boyden-Holmes/Pool, The Register)

Local officials do not have the authority to issue shelter-at-home orders for their communities, Gov. Kim Reynolds said Thursday, likely ending local debates over whether to take a step seen as drastic but by some as necessary.

This is a new direction since Monday, when Reynolds said at a news conference that local officials could take such action if they felt it right for their communities.

“We are working with the Attorney General’s Office and looking at the statute, and right now it appears they do not have the authority to issue a shelter-in-place order,” Reynolds said Thursday. “That is why we are reaching out to communities on a daily level to walk through with them the metrics we are using to talk them through why we do not think it is necessary to issue a shelter-in-place at this point.”

It is not clear why the different message came out Monday. But her message Thursday cleared up confusion for leaders in Linn and Johnson counties who had been grappling with not only whether it was right to enact an order restricting people from leaving home except for essential needs and services, as a number of other states have done, but if it was legal.

In Cedar Rapids, officials are viewing Reynolds’ order Thursday to shut down most retail and non-essential business through April 7 as a “shelter-at-home” order without using the politically charged term.

When asked if Linn County medical officials supported shelter-at-home, Tony Myers, a Mercy Medical Center doctor, said the latest orders by Reynolds are “essentially all you would get from a shelter in place.”

“I think that was the right thing to do,” Myers said.

Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart, who had been hesitant on a local order and called on Reynolds to issue a statewide order instead, said he was pleased with Reynolds’ announcement Thursday. He said local health officials had been telling city officials not enough was being done to stop the spread of the virus.

“This goes in the right direction in the short term to slow the spread,” he said. “If we continue to see the number rise, we will see if she needs to extend the order.”

Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker, who been among the most vocal leaders urging local action, said he would not push for local authority without the support of the county’s population centers of Cedar Rapids and Marion.

“With the additional steps the governor has taken today, she has issued a shelter-in-place order without calling it that,” Walker said.

Reynolds’ staff noted Thursday she has authority to issue an order on a county-specific basis rather than statewide. She has not done that.

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors is asking Reynolds that she grant the board the power to enact a local order. The county’s jurisdiction, however, is limited to unincorporated areas.

There were differing opinions on the board even if it got the power.

“If I’m going by my gut, I say we need to do this,” Supervisor Lisa Green-Douglass said. “If we’re going by metrics, then we’re not there yet.”

Officials from both the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and Mercy Iowa City said during a news conference Wednesday they do not support a local shelter-at-home order.

“Mercy Iowa City does not support a shelter-in-place order that’s being contemplated,” Sean Williams, president and chief executive officer of Mercy Iowa City, said Wednesday. “We believe this will disrupt not only our supply chain and our staffing, but also would create anxiety, and in some cases, panic.”

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

Gazette reporters James Q. Lynch and Michaela Ramm of The Gazette contributed to this report.

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