CORONAVIRUS

Linn County officials back 'three-phase approach' to reopening economy

They also offer advice to people venturing out

Heather Meador of Linn County Public Health is shown outside the Harris Building in Cedar Rapids. On Thursday, she said
Heather Meador of Linn County Public Health is shown outside the Harris Building in Cedar Rapids. On Thursday, she said people should take their time and “make a decision that is best for you and your customers” as Eastern Iowa businesses, closed since March because of the coronavirus, begin to reopen Friday. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — As more Iowa businesses and restaurants begin to open Friday after being closed by the coronavirus pandemic, Linn County officials on Thursday offered advice, words of caution and then a three-phased approach they believe can safely reopen the economy.

Heather Meador with Linn County Public Health said the reopening of the community may cause anxiety and uncertainty for many.

“If you do not feel comfortable visiting businesses that are reopening, you don’t have to,” Meador said during a news conference Thursday. “As a business owner, if you do not feel comfortable opening now, you don’t have to do this.

“It’s OK to take your time and make a decision that is best for you and your customers.”

Linn County is continuing to see community spread of the coronavirus, and a phased reopening will protect the health and safety of employees and the public, Meador said.

Dr. Dustin Arnold, chief medical officer at UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital, said there will be manageable spikes in COVID-19 as social distancing guidelines “loosen up.”

As of Thursday afternoon, 886 people in Linn County have tested positive for COVID-19, 68 people have died, 665 have recovered and 144 people have been hospitalized. Currently, 12 people in Linn County are hospitalized with the virus.

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Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker repeated his belief the governor’s decision to reopen the state “is not in accordance” with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some states, he said, are “benefiting from a more cautious and pragmatic approach” to reopening.

Walker questioned what 50 percent capacity looks like for retail stores — the limit imposed by the governor — and how it will be enforced.

“Until we get answers to those questions, we must continue to be vigilant,” Walker said. “If you feel you cannot social distance in a hair salon or a department store, don’t go. If you don’t feel comfortable dining in a restaurant, continue getting takeout or delivery until you do.”

THE THREE PHASES

The first phase of Linn County’s reopening guidelines — which align with CDC guidelines — is to limit operations to slow community spread of the coronavirus and avoid overwhelming the local health care system.

To meet the phase one requirements, there must be:

• A decrease in the rate of positive COVID-19 tests, a sustained reduction in the number of cases and a decrease in deaths for at least 14 days.

• Enough personal protective equipment available to health care workers and enough face masks for patients — even if the number of COVID-19 cases double.

• More discharges than admissions of COVID-19 patients for a seven-day period.

• Capacity to test anyone who is symptomatic, to monitor all confirmed cases and to conduct thorough contact tracing.

Phase two can be implemented if the county sees a “sustained reduction in cases for an additional 14 days,” according to the reopening guidance. The guidance for this phase is the same as for phase one.

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Phase three can begin once all the criteria for phase one is met and a COVID-19 vaccine is available.

Comments: (319) 368-8664; grace.king@thegazette.com

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