Iowa mayors urge Reynolds to issue a coronavirus stay-at-home order
CDC says coronavirus 'does not spread easily' by touching surfaces or objects. But it still 'may be possible.' USA TODAY
The mayors of two of Iowa's largest cities, including Des Moines, said Monday they are urging the state to implement a stay-at-home order as the coronavirus pandemic spreads.
Gov. Kim Reynolds, in an afternoon news conference, urged people to avoid nonessential activities in public. The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Iowa surpassed 100 on Monday.
“If you do not need to leave your house and help your family or other Iowans respond to this disaster, stay home,” she said.
So far, however, Reynolds has declined to issue an order restricting Iowans' movements, saying any such action would be based on data associated with the severity of the outbreak.
“We want to make sure that we’re making these decisions based on data and based on metrics so that we can be consistent in what we’re telling Iowans, to make sure that we’re not shutting down a state where we don’t need to,” Reynolds said.
Sarah Reisetter, deputy director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, said the rate of hospitalizations, length of stay and age of people diagnosed are among the factors being considered by Iowa officials as they evaluate the next actions that might be required.
“As soon as the Department of Health comes across information or reaches a conclusion that more aggressive community mitigation guidelines or requirements are necessary, we will advise Gov. Reynolds about that immediately,” Reisetter said. “We haven’t quite gotten there yet.”
By Wednesday, at least a dozen states will be enforcing orders that generally prohibit people from making unnecessary trips — directives that will affect almost 127 million people, or about 40% of the U.S. population. Those include Iowa's neighbor to the east, Illinois; government leaders in metro Kansas City have issued similar restrictions.
Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie said he spoke with Reynolds’ office Monday and urged her to issue a statewide order. Cownie is among a handful of mayors who have asked residents to voluntarily observe stay-at-home recommendations.
Iowa, like some other states, has a limited ability to test for the virus because of a lack of test kits or associated supplies. As a result, testing is limited to the most seriously ill, the elderly or those who provide health or emergency services. On Monday, the state had the capacity to test 687 people, officials said.
People who contract the virus may be asymptomatic for about a week and can spread the disease, Cownie noted in his call for a statewide order. Meanwhile, Iowans continue to flock to stores and gather in parks, raising questions about whether they are taking the situation seriously enough.
“I’m concerned that if we don’t act now, we’re going to see an outbreak here not unlike what is being seen in Chicago or Washington,” Cownie said. “We’re ahead of it right now, but we need to act.”
Cownie said he is unsure if local officials like him have the authority to issue a stay-at-home order, a question he said is under review.
In Johnson County, the epicenter of Iowa's COVID-19 cases, Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague said he believes he has the legal authority to act and may do so.
Teague said he wants to partner with the state, “but if I cannot get that support and it is completely necessary to move forward, then, yes, I would."
Iowa City suburbs Coralville and North Liberty have also called for residents to stay home.
Reynolds last week issued a proclamation of a disaster emergency, ordering all restaurants and bars closed except for carry-out or drive-through services. She also ordered the closure of a wide range of other businesses that are considered nonessential, including fitness centers, theaters and casinos. She added tattoo parlors, barbershops and salons on Sunday.
People who violate the orders could face criminal prosecution, generally for misdemeanor crimes. The Iowa Department of Public Safety had made no arrests or citations as of Monday afternoon and was not aware of any arrests made by local law enforcement agencies, said Sgt. Alex Dinkla, a public information officer for the department.
But there have been sporadic reports of defiance.
Thomas Hansen, one of two Republicans running against U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer in northeast Iowa, on March 17 posted a photo of himself on social media drinking a beer in a local restaurant that he said was open despite the governor’s order. Hansen declined Monday to identify the business, but he said that shortly after he took the photo, the restaurant received a warning that remaining open could result in its losing its liquor license, and it shut down.
Hansen said he believes that securing nursing homes and protecting other people who are most likely to be susceptible to the coronavirus makes sense, but contends that most businesses — including restaurants and bars — should be allowed to stay open.
“Local businesses are just devastated by this,” Hansen said. “I think if you wait a week, you will find more” who openly defy shutdown orders.
Despite urgent warnings to practice social distancing, the desire to break away from coronavirus confinement has left some retail stores and recreational hubs hustling.
Des Moines’ southside Walmart, for example, was full of shoppers Monday. And Des Moines Parks Director Ben Page said use of the city's parks and trails is up, likely because of fewer recreational options. Health officials generally have not discouraged outdoor activities if people observe social distancing guidelines.
Des Moines officials, however, closed public playground areas on Monday as a precaution, though they do not plan to fence off play equipment or issue citations for children or families who do not abide by the order, Page said.
"We want to be part of the solution for people to get out and get some fresh air," Page said. "The only way that changes is if further declarations shut us down. We're open until we're told it's not a safe thing to do anymore."
Shoppers who talked to the Register while in stores Monday said their runs were for food or essential supplies.
“I’m trying to do social distancing the best that we can,” said Wendy Lozier, a Colorado resident who is visiting her grandkids and was shopping with two of them at the Des Moines Walmart. “We are getting groceries but not doing any other extraneous things outside of the home and limiting the kids' abilities to go play with friends and have friends in the house.”
But Jayden Raulston, 20, a restaurant manager who was buying automotive items, said social distancing wasn't really on his mind.
“Not so much yet. I’m a big conspiracy theorist, if that makes sense," Raulston said. "I just don’t believe it’s that serious yet. But I know that once it does get that serious I’m going to be very, very distant with everyone.”
Dos and don’ts of social distancing
- Use drive-thru, pickup or delivery options when ordering food. Avoid going into dining establishments.
- Pay online for takeout or delivery when possible, and ask the person at the restaurant, or delivering it, to leave it where you can pick it up, instead of handing it to you.
- Wash your hands after touching items or packaging that have been handled by other people.
- Try to keep safe spacing — at least six feet of separation — when standing in line at a store.
- Try to go to stores, if you must, at times when there are likely to be fewer people there.
- Wash any fruits or vegetables you buy before you eat them.
- Work from home whenever possible.
- Sneeze or cough into a tissue or the inside of your elbow.
- Leave the family at home when you go to the store.
- Let your kids play outside, but keep them away from other children.
- Leave your home except when necessary.
- Go out if you feel ill.
- Forget about safe spacing, even when you’re with friends.
- Have guests visit your home, or visit theirs — especially people who are 60 or over or who have compromised immune systems.
- Assume someone without symptoms isn’t infectious. COVID-19 symptoms can take several days to show up, and in some cases may never become apparent.
- Go to a doctor’s office, hospital or health facility unless you have to.
Sources: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. White House, CNN, Forbes, New York Times, National Public Radio
Jason Clayworth is an investigative reporter at the Des Moines Register. He can be reached at 515-699-7058 or email@example.com. Katie Akin is a retail reporter for the Register. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 515-284-8041. Follow her on Twitter at @katie_akin.