Staff Editorial

Can local governments apply 2008 floods' lessons to virus outbreak?

Iowa's county governments must display leadership and provide frequent updates

Cedar River in downtown Cedar Rapids as seen from the First Avenue bridge. 6:50 a.m. Wednesday, June 11, 2008. (The Gaze
Cedar River in downtown Cedar Rapids as seen from the First Avenue bridge. 6:50 a.m. Wednesday, June 11, 2008. (The Gazette)

Eastern Iowa has risen to meet great challenges before.

The point of reference for longtime community members is the 2008 floods that ravaged cities and towns throughout our region. With vast swaths of the state under water, leaders from every segment of government and community life came together to ensure our health and safety.

The consequences of the coronavirus pandemic may well prove to be even more dire than floods, which inflicted billions of dollars in damage across Iowa.

These are vastly different crises, but the lessons we learned from 2008 are more valuable than ever. Back then, Iowans quickly developed networks and processes to convey critical updates on an hourly basis. Local governments convened their local business and nonprofit partners to direct resources and volunteers.

So far, we have not witnessed that same level of collaboration and open communication during the coronavirus pandemic. In order to get through this, that mobilization must happen.

Eastern Iowa’s impressive network of nonprofits is rushing to develop plans to sustain services during widespread school and business closures, but organizers need direction.

County governments should take on the role as a clearinghouse for information and planning, bringing together cities, schools, nonprofit service providers and health care providers.

At this point in the pandemic and for the foreseeable future, daily updates are absolutely necessary, even if they have to take place over livestreams and conference calls. In some cases, Gazette journalists are struggling to get obtain up-to-date information from key sources, and some counties do not have plans for daily news conferences.


Current events present a uniquely difficult situation — while we must work together to prepare and respond, we also must maintain physical distance to fend of the virus’s spread. Local governments can schedule joint meetings to take place remotely and be streamed online.

This is a fight we must wage alone, together. That’s only possible when structures are in place to facilitate quick and accurate updates.

Special consideration should be given to preparing for Iowa’s primary elections, scheduled for June 2. The plan is to move forward with the election, but county auditors and the Secretary of State’s Office need to work now toward distributing as many vote-by-mail ballots as possible.

It’s time for elected officials shed their egos and political affiliations and work together across all levels of government.

Iowans are desperate for some idea about what to expect during the coronavirus crisis we now expect will last for months. Local officials face the difficult task of balancing the need for quick communication with the ever-evolving and uncertain nature of an infectious disease outbreak.

At this crucial moment, we call on our leaders to err on the side of openness.

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