Gov. Kim Reynolds holds a press conference on COVID-19 at the State Emergency Operations Center in Johnston, Iowa, on Friday, April 3, 2020. (Photo Credit: Olivia Sun/The Des Moines Register)

DES MOINES, Iowa – Gov. Kim Reynolds said that the idea of a shelter-in-place order in response to the COVID-19 pandemic is a divisive issue among Iowans.

“So Iowans of all walks of life are either strongly in favor or strongly opposed to sheltering in place. And this has become a divisive issue at a time when we must be united in our response to this crisis,” she said during a press conference on Friday afternoon at the State Emergency Operations Center in Johnston.

“I want Iowans to understand that we have taken significant and incremental steps to mitigate the spread of the virus since we identified our first case in Iowa on March 8. We were ahead of many states in our response efforts, and we continue to dial-up our mitigation efforts again, based on data that was presented from the experts in the Iowa Department of Public Health,” Reynolds added.

Iowa is among five states, including Arkansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota, without any shelter-in-place orders within the state. There are seven additional states – Alabama, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming – who do not have a statewide shelter-in-place order but do have cities or counties who have issued one.

The Iowa Board of Medicine voted unanimously during an emergency session on Friday morning to urge Reynolds to issue a statewide stay-at-home or shelter-in-place order, agreeing with the Iowa Society of Medicine’s call for such an order. 

“There so much political undertones to this, which is unfortunate. I would rather that if anything happens, it’s not because members of a congressional delegation pressured the administration or the governor to do this, or because we are one of the states that has not mandated shelter in place, or because we are a state with a Republican governor,” Dr. Joyce Vista-Wayne, a Board member who is a psychiatrist, said.

She said that the tone that the Board sets in their letter to Reynolds should be “collaborative,” not political.

Reynolds said that a side-by-side comparison of Iowa’s efforts compared to what states with shelter-in-place orders would show little difference.

“Even those states that have implemented shelter in place orders have kept the majority of their businesses open, similar to our orders. As we continue to evaluate our data and make the recommendations of the Department of Public Health and the CDC, if additional action is necessary to protect the health and safety of Iowans, I will do so. But again, it will be based on data and metrics that are provided to me by the experts through the Department of Public Health,” she said.

“One of the things that I have asked Iowans since the start is to remain calm and to be informed. The term shelter in place does not mean that any state’s orders are different from or stronger than what we are doing in Iowa. What matters is the substance in the order, not its name. We are in this together. So I’m asking every Iowan be informed about this issue, including the media, we all have a responsibility and a role to play,” Reynolds added.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during a CNN town hall Thursday night that every state should have a shelter-in-place order.

After being asked why every state has not issued that order, he answered, “I don’t understand why that’s not happening. The tension between federally-mandated versus states rights to do what they want is something I don’t want to get into, but if you look at what’s going on in this country I just don’t understand why we’re not doing that, we really should be.”

After being asked about his comments, Reynolds replied, “Well, I would think to say that, you know, maybe he doesn’t have all of the information. Again, you can’t just look at a map and assume that no action has been taken that is completely false.”

“So I would say to him, does he recognize the fact that we have closed down schools and we’ve actually done that through March 30? Is he aware of the various businesses that have been closed restaurants and bars through April 30? That we have implemented and no social gatherings of more than ten people? That we have added additional closures to the orders that I have put in place to based on data and metrics that we daily look at and move forward?” she responded. 

Reynolds pointed out that Dr. Deborah Birx, who also serves on the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said that states should look for ways and metrics for when they can open states back up. 

“So we also have to be thinking about how eventually, we’ll be able to open things back up. So they’re kind of sending both messages,” she said.

Reynolds again encouraged a comparison of what Iowa has done compared to other states to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 based on each state’s data.

Addressing the Iowa Board of Medicine’s vote, she said she looks forward to reading their letter and having a conversation with them. She said she would include Dr. Caitlin Pedati, the state epidemiologist, to discuss what the state has already done and what metrics they believe the Iowa Department of Public Health should use that they are currently not using.

“There is still some disconnect on what we’ve done and what the expectations are, and actually what’s taking place and other states across this country. So you know, they haven’t shut down business. They haven’t shut down their entire states. They are keeping open essential business. People are allowed to go outside of their home for groceries and medical visits and exercise,” Reynolds said.

She noted that if she did order Iowans to shelter-in-place, approximately 80 to 81 percent of Iowa’s workforce would be considered essential considering Iowa’s role in the nation’s food supply, manufacturing base, and the financial services and insurance industry.

She also added that noncompliance to her public health emergency order is considered a simple misdemeanor. According to the Iowa Code’s sentencing guidelines, a simple misdemeanor charge carries up to 30 days in the county jail and a fine between $65 and $625.

Listen to the press conference.

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