COVID-19: Is Now the Right Time to Open the State?
Governor Reynolds started to loosen the public health measures being used to stop the spread of COVID-19 this week. Even though we all want to re-open our economy and get life back to normal, I’m disappointed the Governor did not provide the information or data to demonstrate to Iowans that it is safe to loosen those measures designed to keep us safe and healthy.
According to Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, three criteria points need to be met prior to reopening a state:
- Downward trajectory of influenza-like illnesses and COVID-like syndromic cases reported within a 14-day period
- Downward trajectory of documented cases or positive cases as % of total tests within a 14-day period
- Treat all patients without crisis care and robust testing for at-risk healthcare workers
Last week we saw a record number of positive coronavirus cases and deaths. State officials also confirmed Iowa won’t reach its peak for another 2-3 weeks, one of the last in the nation. A new report out last weekend found Iowa had the fastest growing rate of positive coronavirus cases in the country.
In addition to those new record highs, Iowa is still under the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Shortage Order declared by the Governor as some front-line workers still struggle with shortages. Iowans are also seeing more outbreaks at long-term care facilities, manufacturing facilities, and meat processing facilities.
Iowa doesn’t even come close to meeting the criteria outlined by the CDC to begin re-opening either. Hospitalizations and positive cases are still going up and the new testing initiative isn’t up and running at full speed yet.
We all want to re-open our economy and get life back to normal as quickly as possible, however we may end up prolonging the pain and doing more damage to the health and welfare of Iowans.
77 Iowa Counties Can Start to Re-Open on Friday
On Monday it was announced by the Governor that some businesses and establishments can reopen in 77 of Iowa’s 99 counties.
The following counties remain closed until May 15: Allamakee, Benton, Black Hawk, Bremer, Dallas, Des Moines, Dubuque, Fayette, Henry, Iowa, Jasper, Johnson, Linn, Louisa, Marshall, Muscatine, Polk, Poweshiek, Scott, Tama, Washington, and Woodbury.
In the other 77 counties, the below establishments may open beginning at 5:00 a.m. on Friday, May 1, 2020:
- Restaurants with the following requirements:
- The restaurant must limit the number of customers present at indoor or outdoor spaces to 50% of its normal operating capacity to ensure adequate spacing of groups
- No groups of more than 6 people
- Distance of 6 feet must be maintained between separate groups
- No self-service of food or drink allowed
- Fitness Centers with the following requirements:
- Must limit the number of customers present to 50% of its maximum legal occupancy capacity
- Must ensure all equipment is at least 6 feet apart
- Any group activity is limited to 10 people or fewer, and all must be at least 6 feet apart
- Malls with the following requirements:
- Mall must limit the number of customers present to 50% of its maximum legal occupancy capacity
- Common seating areas (food courts) are to remain closed
- Play areas are to remain closed
- Libraries with the following requirements:
- Limits the number of patrons present to 50% of its maximum legal occupancy capacity
- Ensure social distancing of employees and patrons
- Racetracks (does not include horse or dog races) can only operate if there are no spectators at the event
- Other retail establishments that were previously ordered closed may reopen as long as they limit the number of customers to 50% of their capacity and continues to implement social distancing
Continued Statewide Closures: The Governor’s proclamation also extends the statewide closures for the following until 11:59 pm on May 15th:
- Bars- Carry out and drive through services still allowed
- Casino and Gaming Facilities
- Social and Fraternal Clubs
- Senior citizen centers and adult day care facilities
- Bingo halls, bowling alleys, pool halls, arcades, and amusement parks
- Museums, aquariums, and zoos
- Skating rinks and skate parks
- Playgrounds- indoor and outdoor and children’s playground centers
- Campgrounds- does not include long term or permanent residents. Includes cabins and yurts
- Swimming pools
- Salons and barbershops
- Medical spas
- Tattoo establishments
- Tanning facilities
- Massage therapy
- Door-to-door sales.
Statewide Mass Gatherings: The following mass gatherings can take place statewide, even if there are more than 10 people present:
- Spiritual and religious gatherings. Must implement reasonable accommodations to ensure social distancing standards. Weddings and funerals are not covered under this.
- Farmer’s Markets. Only vendors that are allowed to sell food or farm products are permitted. All entertainment activities such as musical performances are prohibited. All common seating is prohibited. All vendor spacing accommodations must be made to ensure social distancing requirements are met.
Continue to Practice Social Distance
As we see parts of the state open up, it’s important to remember to continue to practice social distancing and stay home as much as possible. Limiting contact with others, or wearing a mask when in public is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones. Again, I am very grateful to our essential workers, including health care workers, delivery drivers, grocery store workers, and emergency personnel for being on the front lines keeping Iowans safe and healthy.
New ‘Test Iowa’ Program Launches
The state of Iowa and Governor Reynolds announced a new public-private partnership with Utah based companies in an effort to increase Iowa’s test capacity as the COVID-19 pandemic peak is still estimated to be weeks away. Utah, Iowa, and Nebraska are all now running similar programs.
The $26 million contract will allow Iowa to offer drive through testing for those who qualify after taking an online assessment at www.testiowa.com. The goal of the program is to allow the state to administer 3,000 tests per day at the various drive through locations throughout the state. The soft launch for the program was on April 25 in Des Moines.
Iowans who have questions about the program can visit https://www.testiowa.com/faq and take the online assessment to see if they need to be tested at www.testiowa.com.
Relief for Small Businesses
An additional $30 million in grants from the Small Business Relief Grant Program will be sent out to Iowa small businesses soon. Due to federal funds to Iowa from the CARES Act, the Iowa Economic Development Authority has announced additional businesses that applied for the program in March and did not receive funds will now be awarded. Businesses that received grants can be found here, https://www.iowaeconomicdevelopment.com/aspx/general/dynamicpage.aspx?id=205
Small Business Relief Fund: Last week, the US Congress passed an additional $310 billion for the relief programs for small businesses through the Small Business Administration. Small businesses will soon be able to apply for the programs again. More information on the programs can be found at, https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options
Cultural Affairs Grants: The Department of Cultural Affairs is accepting applications from arts and cultural nonprofits for their Iowa Arts & Culture Emergency Relief Fund grant program. Organizations can receive grants ranging from $1,000 to $20,000. For more information visit, https://www.iowaculture.gov/arts/grants/iowa-arts-emergency-relief-fund
Paycheck Protection Program: Applications for the Paycheck Protection Program are now open again. Last week, Congress voted overwhelmingly to add an additional $310 billion and $60 billion specifically for small community lenders to help Iowa small businesses. To apply go to: https://www.sba.gov/paycheckprotection
Ways to Support Iowa Small Businesses without Leaving your Home
As we continue to see some Iowa small businesses closed due to COVID-19, there are a few small things we can do to support them.
1. Shop local – online. Online shopping is convenient and can be done right from the comfort of your couch! While going through mega-retailers like Amazon might be your go-to, for now, change it up and buy items online from shops in your local community. Most small businesses have websites offering their products.
2. Order takeout. Many restaurants and bars are offering meals and drinks to go, and some are even providing free delivery. Maybe, designate a day of the week to support a local restaurant. #takeouttuesday
3. Purchase gift cards. Establishments like bars and restaurants who were forced to close will be suffering right now, so consider buying gift cards for the businesses you visit most often to use later when they are officially up and running again.
4. Increase the tip amount. Don’t forget, servers and delivery people will also be feeling the decrease in business, and many of them survive on the tips they’re now missing. If you’re ordering takeout or delivery, consider giving a little more than usual when tipping.
5. Rate a business you love. Give one of your favorite shops or restaurants a 5-stars rating on social media, yelp or other online resources.
6. Buy now, pick up later. Give your favorite business a call and pay for a product now to be picked up at a later time.
7. Practice patience. We’re all in this together. Don’t forget that many small businesses are most likely working with a skeleton staff, so you might have to wait a little longer for your delivery to arrive or your dinner to be done.
Tips for Parents Helping Kids Learn at Home
During this health crisis, schools are either providing required online courses to students with attendance and grades, or providing resources to learn from home. For the schools that are offering programs to further students’ learning through resources, student participation is voluntary. Schools cannot give grades or take attendance.
Since 87% of Iowa school districts are providing students optional resources to learn, here are some tips and helpful information for your family:
- Make a schedule. Kids benefit from knowing what to expect throughout the day. It should include plenty of sleep, without staying up too late.
- Have a morning meeting to set out the plan for the day. This would be a great time to go over the schedule of the day, talk about how the day before went, and remind kids of proper behavior. Have logical consequences that enforce themselves, and positive praise. Resources or suggested assignments provided by your kid’s teachers should be the focus, or a book at their reading level. The Department of Education also has resources: https://educateiowa.gov/pk-12/resources-support-learning-during-covid-19
- Plenty of food and hydrate often. Keep water and healthy snacks nearby.
- It is ok to take breaks. Take a break after finishing a math problem, or reading a chapter. Set goals with rewards.
- Enjoy time together. This is a rare time that families can spend together. You are doing a great job, and they’re lucky to have you!
Resources for Students Available
The large number of public schools are providing resources to their students. However, parents can also provide educational resources to their kids through the following:
Vote from Home During June 2nd Primary Election
Iowans can now vote by mail for the June primary election. In an effort to make voting easier for Iowans who don’t want to leave their home, the state has expanded early voting by mail. Iowans now have 40 days to cast their vote at home for the upcoming primary election.
The state will also be mailing out absentee ballot requests to all registered voters, Iowans should expect to see the requests in their mailbox on April 29.
Eligible voters can also print off absentee ballot requests from the Secretary of State and mail the filled-out form to their local county auditor. The request form can be found here: https://sos.iowa.gov/elections/pdf/absenteeballotapp.pdf. To find information on your county auditor go here: https://sos.iowa.gov/elections/auditors/auditorslist.html.
Other COVID-19 Updates
STUDENT FINANCIAL AID HELP: Students will now be able to defer payments and waive interest on federally held student loans until September 30. Also, the collection of defaulted student loans has been suspended. Students will not be required to pay back federal student loans and Pell Grants if they withdraw from courses due to the COVID-19 emergency. In addition, students who withdraw will not have this semester counted against their lifetime eligibility for federal financial aid. Students may continue collecting work-study pay, even if they are unable to work due to school and workplace closures. To learn more, go to: studentaid.gov/announcements-events/coronavirus
FEDERAL RELIEF: The United States House and Senate have passed and the President has signed the fourth round of relief aimed to combat the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. This stimulus package totals $484 billion dollars in relief. The legislation provides no direct relief to state or local governments. The appropriation provides an additional $75 billion for health care providers through the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund, which was created under the CARES Act. There is also an additional $25 billion for COVID-19 testing and $1 billion to testing coverage to uninsured individuals. Both the House and the Senate have announced intentions to pass another stimulus package as states continue to battle the pandemic.
HELP FOR HOMEOWNERS: Iowans who have a federally backed mortgage have the right to request a maximum 180-day forbearance if they are experiencing financial hardship due to COVID-19. Those who would like more information should visit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s website at https://www.consumerfinance.gov/about-us/blog/guide-coronavirus-mortgage-relief-options/ to determine assistance eligibility. Attorney General Tom Miller joined 34 attorneys general in a bipartisan coalition recommending actions to prevent borrowers who have had mortgage disruptions due to COVID-19 to not have to pay back missed payments in a lump sum or enter into a permanent loss mitigation solution.
UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS: Another 27,912 Iowans filed initial claims for state unemployment benefits in the last week. Unemployment payments for individuals who were self-employed also began to go out. Nationally 4.4 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits, bringing the five-week total to 26.5 million. To file a claim, go to: https://www.iowaworkforcedevelopment.gov/file-claim-unemployment-insurance-benefits.
STUDENT LUNCH LOCATIONS: The USDA’s Summer Food Service Program has 303 approved Grab and Go meal sites in Iowa to provide meals and snacks to children who might go without while schools are closed due to COVID-19. To find a location in your community go to: https://www.fns.usda.gov/meals4kids