Staff Editorial

With Eastern Iowa hit hard, it's time for regional response to COVID-19

Gov. Reynolds must response to local requests for a shelter at home order

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds speaks to the press during a news conference on Sunday, March 29, 2020, about the coronavirus
Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds speaks to the press during a news conference on Sunday, March 29, 2020, about the coronavirus COVID-19 and the state's response from the State Emergency Operation Center in Johnston, Iowa. (Kelsey Kremer/The Des Moines Register via AP, Pool)

To slow the spread of coronavirus, most states now have shelter at home orders, requiring residents to stay home except for essential work and certain basic needs. Several more states have stay-home mandates in certain localities.

Iowa is one of only a handful of states with no local or statewide orders. Many government officials and everyday Iowans are calling on Gov. Kim Reynolds to impose the same protections other states have adopted.

Short of a statewide shelter at home order, the Reynolds administration should delegate that authority to local officials in the Eastern Iowa communities most threatened by the surge of COVID-19 cases.

Even though a lack of widespread testing gives us only a glimpse of the virus’s spread, It appears this area has been an early hot spot in Iowa. That is highlighted by an early rash of cases among Johnson County travelers on an Egyptian cruise and a recent outbreak at a long-term care facility in Linn County.

Three counties along Highway 218 — Linn, Johnson and Washington — contain 38 percent of Iowa’s confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday night. That same group of counties represents only about 12 percent of the state’s population.

Calls for a shelter at home order by Eastern Iowa officials are growing, both in frequency and urgency — the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, members of the Linn County Board of Supervisors, the 1st and 2nd District U.S. representatives, and mayors of several cities, including Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, have asked Reynolds to issue a statewide order or give local leaders the authority to do so.

While Reynolds and some health care officials have cited possible disruptions to the supply chain if a shelter at home were given, these concerns could be addressed with exclusions in a regional order.

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Locals are understandably wary of a county-by-county approach, but it may be more effective than no order at all. If Reynolds grants them the authority, officials in the hardest hit counties should coordinate to send a consistent message about the requirement to stay home.

The disease is quickly spreading, but Iowa still allows some non-essential businesses to continue operating and allows people to leave their homes for non-essential trips, such as social gatherings. Reynolds has chosen to gradually ramp up restrictions, ordering specific businesses to close on at least three separate occasions in the past few weeks. However, even those decisions lack sufficient transparency and explanation.

When journalists ask Reynolds about the prospect of more restrictive orders, the governor brushes off comparisons to other states, like three out of our six bordering states that have shelter at home orders. Reynolds says factors are different in each state. Under the same reasoning, Reynolds should recognize Iowa’s eastern metro areas and western rural communities might require different responses.

Waiting until the state’s metrics trigger a statewide lockdown ignores the fact that the Eastern Iowa coronavirus hot spot has already hit a critical level. The governor should give communities the leadership they need to stop the spread.

Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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