There are two things we know are necessary components of a responsible plan to roll back coronavirus closures — a reliable model to forecast the virus’s spread, and a proven system to test and trace people with the disease.
Iowa has neither of those things at the moment, yet Gov. Kim Reynolds this week announced some businesses in 77 of Iowa’s 99 counties can resume limited operations, effective Friday. It’s a rash decision that jeopardizes Iowans’ health.
Reynolds’ premature reopening measures are especially frustrating because those crucial pieces — forecasting and testing — are being built up right now, but are not yet ready.
The Iowa Department of Public Health is working with University of Iowa scholars on an Iowa-based pandemic model, but the governor has not been forthright about how that information is being incorporated in her decision making. In one installment of the research project submitted last week, experts warned that social distancing measures should be kept in place. The third and final phase of the project could be available within a couple of weeks, the Des Moines Register reported this week.
Reynolds last week announced the TestIowa.com program she expects to conduct about 3,000 tests per day. It could be a powerful tool, but the contractors involved have not yet shown they can pull it off.
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In a matter of days, Iowa policymakers will have a better sense of whether the Test Iowa campaign can reach and sustain its lofty testing capacity goals. In a little more than a week, we hope, the state will finally be using a reliable scientific model. But Reynolds is rushing ahead now.
Those are significant investments, but it could all be for naught if the partial reopening leads to an overwhelming surge in the virus’s transmission.
The governor has not offered a satisfying response to the concern that people will travel between counties and bring the virus with them. Among 22 counties where the stricter orders will continue, 21 border at least one county where the restrictions are relaxing.
Cedar County is one troubling example — some of its businesses can reopen, but the county’s borders are a half-hour drive from three of the state’s five largest cities, where similar businesses will remain closed. It’s the only Eastern Iowa county on Interstate 80 where the rules are easing. Three towns there straddle the county line, meaning businesses across the street from each other may be subject to different rules.
The COVID-19 shutdown orders have created many hardships for Iowans, and some of them can be responsibly remedied with targeted action from the governor. Her decision last week to allow limited elective health procedures is one example.
But Reynolds’ 77-county plan goes much too far, much too quickly. The governor is not giving her own pandemic response a chance to work.
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