Iowa Considers Opening Economy

In an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) the national economy is closed, which is resulting in millions of people unemployed and businesses wondering if they will survive.  Shelter-in-place and social distancing policies are working to slow the spread of COVID-19, but the longer the economy remains closed the greater the damage will be. There is great uncertainty as to how to balance containing the virus and allowing businesses to re-open and people to go back to work. This has become the focus of President Donald Trump who recently released guidelines on how to do just that.  Yet, he is deferring to individual state governors to begin the process of re-opening their respective economies.


Governor Kim Reynolds is working on a phase-in approach to re-opening Iowa’s economy. In preparation, the Governor is utilizing President Trump’s guidelines as a basis, and is also working with other governors, especially from Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Wyoming to determine the best method.


In preparing to reopen the economy, Governor Reynolds stated that she is moving from an “aggressive mitigation strategy” to focusing on “targeted containment.” Recently, the Governor announced that elective surgeries can resume as long as hospitals are prepared to handle COVID-19 patients. Farmers markets can also resume as long social distancing is continued.


On May 1, certain businesses in 77 Iowa counties will be allowed to reopen.* Businesses are allowed to reopen in these counties because either no coronavirus has been reported or there is evidence of a downward trend in positive cases. The businesses in these 77 counties that can reopen include restaurants, gyms, retail stores, and malls. Some restrictions apply such as operating at 50 percent capacity to continue social distancing. Community, social, recreational, and leisure events may also resume as long as they are limited to 10 people. Religious gatherings may also resume as long as social distancing policies are followed.


President Trump’s guidelines begin with certain standards or “gating criteria” that must be met in order to proceed with re-opening the economy. The Wall Street Journal noted President Trump’s “guidelines are only broadly proscriptive, but no one can say they ignore the coronavirus science or health experts.”


The guidelines being offered allow each state to establish their own course for re-opening their economy. “In deferring to the states, the guidelines honor the best traditions of American federalism,” argued The Wall Street Journal. Each state has been impacted differently. Iowa’s battle with COVID-19 is different than New York or Michigan. In fact, the impact of the virus even varies throughout the state. This may cause Governor Reynolds to allow businesses in some counties to re-open sooner than others.


The standards or “gating criteria”  of President Trump’s guidelines focus on symptoms, cases, and hospital preparedness:


  • Downward trajectory of influenza-like illnesses (ILI) reported within a 14-day period.
  • Downward trajectory of COVID-like syndromic cases reported within a 14-day period.
  • Downward trajectory of documented cases within a 14-day period.
  • Downward trajectory of positive tests as a percent of total tests within a 14-day period (flat or increasing volume of tests).
  • Treat all patients without crisis care.
  • Robust testing program in place for at-risk healthcare workers, including emerging antibody testing.


Once a state has met these guidelines, a phased-in approach can begin to re-open the economy. President Trump’s plan consists of three phases:


  • Phase 1: Vulnerable populations should continue to shelter-in-place, while social distancing practices in public should continue. It is recommended people avoid socializing in groups larger than 10 and non-essential travel should be minimal. Employers should encourage working from home if possible and return employees back to work in phases. Social distancing practices should also continue in the workplace. Non-essential work travel should be minimal, and employers should consider special accommodations for those employees who are vulnerable to the virus. Schools and daycares that are closed should remain closed and visits to hospitals and senior care facilities should be prohibited to protect vulnerable patients and residents. Elective surgeries can resume as appropriate. Large venues such as sit-down dining, movie theaters, sporting venues, places of worship, among others can be open if social distancing is followed. Gyms may also re-open if social distancing guidelines are followed.


  • Phase 2: Individuals who are vulnerable to the virus should continue to shelter-in-place, and social distancing practices should continue in public spaces. Non-essential travel can resume. Employers, if possible, should continue to encourage working from home and continue to close common areas within the workspace. Employers should continue to provide special accommodations for those employees who are vulnerable. Schools, daycare facilities, youth sports, among others can resume. Hospital and senior care facility visits should continue to be prohibited. Large venues can re-open, but should follow social distancing guidelines. Elective surgeries for both out-patient and in-patient can resume. Gyms can re-open as long as they follow proper sanitation and social distancing guidelines. Bars may also re-open following guidelines of customers standing and practicing social distancing.


  • Phase 3: After following phase one and two guidelines and there is not an increase in COVID-19, states can move into the third phase. Vulnerable individuals do not have to follow shelter-in-place, but can resume going out in public areas as long as they follow social distancing. Those individuals who are low risk should still avoid large gatherings. Employers can allow unrestricted staffing at workplaces. Visitations to hospitals and senior care facilities can resume, but individuals must continue to follow hygiene guidelines. Large venues can operate with limited social distancing, while gyms can remain open as long as they continue to follow proper sanitation guidelines. Bars may also reopen with increased standing room for social distancing.


President Trump’s guidelines for “Opening Up America Again” are broad and each state will be different as they proceed to restart their respective economies. Governor Reynolds does not have a specific time table of when Iowa will begin to re-open, but the groundwork has begun. One important goal Iowa is working on is additional testing for the virus. Governor Reynolds recently announced the “Test Iowa” initiative, which has the goal to test 3,000 Iowans per day. The “Test Iowa” initiative will help meet the “gating criteria” for allowing Iowa’s economy to gradually begin to re-open.


“Twenty million jobless in four weeks and food lines are a human tragedy. The longer the lockdowns the more long-term damage there will be in lost human and physical capital—and the weaker the recovery. Americans want to defeat COVID-19, and they have shown they will sacrifice to do it, but they don’t want poverty to be the price they have to pay for victory,” noted The Wall Street Journal.


Both President Trump and Governor Reynolds understand the difficult objective of balancing and re-opening the economy while controlling the spread of COVID-19.