DES MOINES, Iowa — As more restrictions were lifted statewide with restaurants, hair salons and more able to open their doors Friday, some leaders think it’s too soon for many businesses to reopen.
These reopenings come as the state reaches a grim milestone, with the largest COVID-19 death toll so far this week.
It also comes as an unreleased White House coronavirus task force report published by NBC News on Monday listed Polk County as No. 8 out of 10 counties where coronavirus had spread the fastest in the week before May 7, when the report was written.
Cases in Polk County surpass every county in Iowa with 2,767 reported cases as of Friday, according to public health data. They are metrics some leaders think is reason alone to hold off on easing restrictions on businesses.
Gov. Kim Reynolds reiterated Friday that she has been using the metrics and public health data to guide her decisions toward reopening the economy.
“We have demonstrated on a daily basis as we moved from mitigation to containing and managing that we have sufficient resources to not overwhelm our hospital systems and to make sure that we could we still have the capacity in case we did see some type of a surge,” Reynolds said.
She said hospitalization rates across the state are stabilizing, and numbers of Iowans in the ICU or on ventilators is decreasing. Reynolds said “we never guaranteed that no one would get COVID-19,” rather that the goal with flattening the curve was to get the state’s health care system in a position to handle cases if there is a surge. But questions were raised at the governor’s daily press conference as to what she would do if parts of the state do see a surge after lifting restrictions.
“If we see a significant surge and we need to take additional steps, we’ll do that. But the goal is to again make sure that Iowans are safe, make sure that they’re practicing social distancing. We’re still limiting social gatherings to ten or fewer,” she said.
Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie does not think that strategy is enough as virus activity continues to grow in Polk County.
“We try to base our decisions and our recommendations to our citizens on facts and evidence in medical science,” Cownie said. “To me, the medical science tells us we want to see two weeks of a big downturn in the cases. Not just one or two days, but weeks on end and, of course, here we are not seeing it.”
The mayor of the largest city in Iowa wanted to remind his residents that there is still an emergency declaration in the Des Moines, despite businesses being allowed to reopen.
“We are urging people to stay home when they can. We want to see a real thoughtful strategic way to think about opening and in feeling comfortable with it,” he said.
Reynolds grew passionate when speaking about the consequences of keeping things shutdown, saying there has been a cost to “locking everybody down,” too, giving examples of unemployment numbers and mental health struggles.
“There is a cost, a social cost, to also locking down and not figuring out a way to responsibly and safely start to open up the economy get Iowans back to work, so that they can take care of themselves and their families.”
Cownie said he grew up in a family business and empathizes with the struggles they have faced during this period of shutdown.
“Business is really important. But if we don’t have our health and our well-being, there won’t be any recovery in business or in life,” he said.