As Iowa opens up its economy during a pandemic, the state has issued some guidance for businesses on how to reopen. But beyond opening 50 percent of maximum legal capacity, to ensure distancing and hygiene, the rules rely on discretion and best judgment — optional guidelines for businesses to follow. Already, reports of businesses opening up across the state demonstrate how the lack of clarity in specifics can lead to overcrowded restaurants and patios. The lack of consistency and lack of accountability for those who disregard safety is already sparking fear, anger and frustration in those who have been cautious and rule abiding, yet eager to get back to normal life.
With a lack of state specifics, some counties have stepped up. Linn County in particular should be commended for rolling out very specific and comprehensive guidelines for reopening. But without the ability to enforce and inspect, these guidelines are essentially toothless.
And if the state is saying one thing, counties are saying another, and cities are still saying another, this adds up to a Gordian knot of confusion for businesses and residents trying to navigate this pandemic world.
The state has also made it clear that there will be no meaningful enforcement of social distancing guidelines and mask wearing, by any measurable means. This leaves the role of enforcement in the hands of those who feel they have no other choice, in order to protect themselves and their families.
Additionally, in a news conference on May 27, Gov. Reynolds stated that outbreaks won’t be reported unless the media specifically asks.
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Without clear leadership and enforceable guidelines or consistent communication about outbreaks in their own communities, Iowans are on their own.
It’s no wonder then that tensions are running high. Social media clashes become real life clashes between friends and neighbors, who are all just doing their best to navigate the inconsistent and confusing messaging and guidelines. What is often misinterpreted as a lack of concern is often a lack of information or education from state and local leaders who have often not practiced the very guidelines they preach.
The state needs to be proactively investigating and monitoring businesses and companies who are not compliant with the guidelines and not just leaving it up to the businesses to comply.
The lack of clarity is contributing to the rise in anxiety, fear and carelessness among Iowans, who want to do the right thing but aren’t being given the correct tools and guidance.
If Iowans are supposed to “learn to live with the virus” as the governor has stated, then Iowans need to feel comfortable going out into the world. Iowans need to know that there are clear and consistent expectations, so we can adjust our behavior accordingly.
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