Iowa is strong and always has been. Southern Iowa manages to take that attitude of resilience to the next level. The past several weeks have been a trying time on our state and nation with many difficult decisions being made. Iowans have done their part in flattening the curve, preparing our hospitals and health care providers to care for those who become ill, and showing real concern for our neighbors by doing what we could to avoid spreading this disease. But those sacrifices to get the job done have taken their toll on our state’s economy and on the lives and livelihoods of many individuals.
Because of that, Governor Reynolds began a process for taking Iowa to the next level of our new normal following the COVID-19 pandemic. And her actions are a good start. We now need to flatten the curve of disruption to the food supply chain and acknowledge Iowa’s vital role in that system. It’s important Iowa, through Governor Reynolds, takes the lead on that role. As a state, our situation is vastly different than say New York. Des Moines is certainly different than Detroit. And governors across the nation are in the best place to begin making the decisions for their states that will bring our country back online.
But more generally, decisions need to be pushed down to the lowest possible level. Counties, towns, and ultimately the individual people of Iowa are capable of making these decisions. The real tension between pandemic response and economic reality is the first calls for collective effort, and the second thrives on individual effort. America is and should be about individuals. We should not let this collective emergency alter that basic nature of our nation.
When this crisis first began, there was certainly a time for a top-down response to give our nation time to respond together. It was a time when the situation called for collective action. And we met that call to work together to meet this threat head-on. The biggest threat NOW is economic, and no longer medical. We’ve given our hospitals the time and the resources to respond to those who become sick. It is time to return our state to the rugged individualism – the strength and resilience for which we are known – that has always given us the edge and made us who we are. Now the real danger in this virus is, if we let it change our national DNA, if it make us a nation driven by fear of the unknown, rather than a desire to be unstoppable.
That being said, we need to understand there’s a difference between the public officials who make up our government and the private sector that drives our economy. Many folks are already on track to get our nation back up and running. Since the stock market bottomed out on March 23, we are seeing steady, albeit slow, growth. That’s because the people who are dependent on our nation to thrive already see our recovery coming. And our question should follow that knowledge: At what point does the economic threat outweigh the medical one? The answer to that is different for different places in our great nation. In Iowa, I believe we have passed the point and must begin to move forward as the leaders in feeding our nation.
None of this is easy for any of us. And these questions get answered differently for different people, and in different places and situations. What we’re facing requires courage that I know Iowans possess, and it comes in many flavors – medical courage, economic courage, political courage, to name just a few. I believe Iowa’s plan for getting back to work is sound and does the job of answering the return to our new normal in different ways in different parts of the state.
In 77 counties across Iowa seeing little or no COVID-19 infection, business will resume on a reduced basis beginning May 1, including most parts of my Senate district. Counties with elevated infection rates will be monitored and will only reopen when the data indicates it’s time. On May 1 in those counties restaurants, fitness centers, malls, libraries, and other retail establishments may reopen and serve their customers with some limiting restrictions in place to prevent any new disease spread. Bars, theaters, casinos, social clubs, senior citizen centers and adult daycare facilities, museums, aquariums, zoos, playgrounds, campgrounds, swimming pools, salons and barbershops, spas, and tattoo shops may follow suit on May 15. Iowans may now immediately participate in farmers markets and schedule their elective medical procedures. And perhaps most importantly to Iowans, who have long been a spiritual people, may return to their churches and meet with those who share their faith.
Schools will remain closed through this school year, and districts will continue to provide continuous learning opportunities for all children across the state. When the governor made this announcement, she also directed the Iowa Department of Education to waive instructional time requirements for the remainder of the school year, direct schools to provide continuous learning, and require schools to submit a “Return to Learn” plan. This plan will guide schools as they address the disruptions to learning this year in preparation for the fall academic school year. School districts have been working with families to ensure they can participate in continuous learning online or with paper packets. (You can find updates and information on continuous learning at educateiowa.gov.)
The Iowa Legislature continues to plan its work to complete the 2020 legislative session. A number of policy and budgetary matters still need to be addressed this year. When the legislature reconvenes it will continue to be mindful of guidelines for the large group gatherings from the CDC and the Iowa Department of Public Health, making sure to do its part to manage the spread of the virus.
Iowa is strong. And it’s time for us to safely and responsibly show the rest of the nation that we are ready to meet the demands our role in the food supply chain require.