CORONAVIRUS

Midwest governors have different reopening strategies

Kim Reynolds, Nebraska's Pete Ricketts to end coronavirus restrictions sooner

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds announces updates Friday on coronavirus in the state. Reynolds said she will announce reopening s
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds announces updates Friday on coronavirus in the state. Reynolds said she will announce reopening steps Monday. (Olivia Sun/Des Moines Register via AP)

Governors nationwide are developing strategies for when and how to begin reopening businesses, parks and anything else temporarily closed by coronavirus mitigation efforts.

The myriad plans are interesting and worth following as elected officials take different approaches.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Friday announced the first baby steps in her plan to reopen Iowa, with a pledge to introduce more steps Monday.

Reynolds has given every indication she plans to reopen Iowa on a partial basis, geographically speaking. At her daily briefings she frequently talks about using the data the state public health department has collected to determine where the virus is hitting hardest and where it appears to be less prevalent. That will enable the state, Reynolds says, to reopen on a regional, county or even community level.

It is not difficult to see how that is most likely to play out. The eastern and central portions of the state are where the virus has been most common, while western Iowa has seen far fewer confirmed cases.

Of course, a regional reopening will present challenges. Reynolds will have to address, for example, questions about what happens when people from Eastern Iowa, which could remain partially locked down, travel to where businesses are allowed to open, presumably in western Iowa. That kind of travel threatens to spread the virus to areas where thus far it has not been as widespread.

Regardless, Reynolds is starting the process of reopening Iowa’s businesses and other amenities.

That’s similar to the process started by some of Iowa’s western neighbors. Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, for example, announced Friday that restaurants, barbershops and some other businesses will be allowed to reopen on a limited basis starting May 4.

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To Iowa’s east, the plans are different. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers extended that state’s shelter-at-home order to May 26, and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker extended that state’s until May 31.

So while governors like Reynolds in Iowa and Ricketts in Nebraska are making moves to reopen their state’s businesses, governors like Evers in Wisconsin and Pritzker in Illinois not only are not reopening businesses in their states, they are extending current mitigation strategies further into May.

Reynolds and Ricketts are Republicans, and Evers and Pritzker are Democrats. That bears noting, even while hoping these leaders are making these momentous decisions based not on political ideology but on the best data available and advice from public health experts.

While the strategies are divergent, it is possible all are the best courses of action for the respective states. For one example of a simple measure: there are more people and bigger cities in Illinois and Wisconsin. They are the sixth and 20th most populous U.S. states, while Iowa is No. 32 and Nebraska 38. Because of how the coronavirus spreads, it can spread more rapidly and be more dangerous in high-population areas.

And it’s not as if every Republican governor is reopening businesses while every Democratic governor is keeping them closed. Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana this past week announced his plan that would allow businesses, schools and churches to reopen over the next three weeks. Montana is a more rural state as well.

So perhaps it’s fine that states like Iowa and Nebraska are opening some doors while Illinois and Wisconsin are ordering their doors to stay closed a little longer.

But at the very least, these various strategies are worth noting now, and following up over the coming months. This is all new territory for anyone who wasn’t alive in 1918. In states that reopen, will the coronavirus spread and cause more outbreaks? In states that remain sheltered, will businesses and the economy have a harder time restarting once they open?

These are all questions that it will take time to answer. Meantime, the best we can hope is that our elected officials are making the right decisions for the right reasons.

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Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government for Lee Enterprises. His email address is erin.murphy@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.

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