In her defense of Iowa’s continued lack of a shelter-at-home order, Gov. Kim Reynolds has often argued at her press conferences that the state’s current recommendations and actions have already accomplished what many other states with lockdown orders already have. Schools are closed, people are social distancing, many workplaces are telecommuting, and bars, restaurants and a host of other businesses are shuttered.
However, a simple drive around major workplaces in Iowa during the day shows the shortcomings of Iowa’s current orders. Untold thousands of workers must still show up in-person to manufacturing centers and office buildings around the state.
While many of the major insurance companies in the Des Moines metro have transitioned a large portion of their employees to work-from-home setups, some staff still have to come into the large office complexes. Several major Iowa employers have had to shut down part of their offices after employees tested positive for COVID-19.
But Iowa’s blue-collar workers face a much different reality, as a simple drive around the state makes obvious. Yesterday, Starting Line’s staff drove out to manufacturing workplaces in central and southeastern Iowa to see how many parking lots were still full of workers. While this is just a simple example, it should demonstrate to those living in a white-collar bubble just how many Iowans must still show up in large workplaces during the pandemic.
At Titan Tire on the southeast side of Des Moines, employees’ cars packed the parking lot.
In Mt. Pleasant, life went on for many workers. Innovairre, a direct mail company that is Mt. Pleasant’s second-largest employer, had employees on hand Thursday.
Hearth and Home Technologies, also in Mt. Pleasant, was busy as well.
Down in Pella, home to Pella Manufacturing, hundreds of cars lined the window-making company’s lots.
Across Southeast Iowa, many major plants and manufacturing centers remained open and full of workers, including Sterzings Potato Chips in Burlington, Iowa Fertilizer Co. in Wever and Siemens Gamesa, a wind turbine manufacturer in Fort Madison.
Of course, some of these workplaces would still get deemed “essential” in a statewide stay-at-home order. That would include places like the Roquette plant in Keokuk, which produces corn-based products like high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup and speciality starches.
Other manufacturers like Winegard Co., a Burlington-based antenna manufacturing plant, might continue as they help provide special services during the pandemic. Winegard Co. is helping the local school district set up antenna for internet connections to families with no service so their children can do remote learning online.
And major Iowa employers like John Deere will certainly contend that their farming machinery is essential to the food supply of the country. But their situation well-illustrates the added problems that Iowa faces, given the many hundreds of employee cars that packed their Ankeny plant’s lots on Thursday.
The simple reality is that many major Iowa workplaces are still operating, even with the current recommendations from Reynolds and the IDPH. Many workers cannot simply work from home as long as their employer is open, and they must continue to show up to large facilities filled with people. Even with the extra health precautions that those companies take, it’s putting Iowans at risk of both contracting COVID-19 and spreading it to others.
A stay-at-home order would close some, if not all, of those work sites, reducing the risk and spread of the coronavirus.
And while some of Iowa’s manufacturers can’t shutter during the pandemic without disrupting vital supply chains, that only raises the stakes for the rest of Iowa residents. It becomes ever-more important that everyone else in a community shelter at home if hundreds of local workers must still show up to jobs where they work alongside many fellow employees.
Reynolds and health leaders can tell themselves and others that Iowa essentially has a stay-at-home order with the recommendations they’ve made, but a quick peek outside of our homes clearly shows otherwise.
by Pat Rynard, with reporting from Elizabeth Meyer and Adam Henderson