As the coronavirus moves through the country and statewide shutdowns continue into another week, many states are talking about when and how to reopen their societies and economies. Many governors are collaborating on their responses, with Nebraska and Iowa emerging as a close team in the Midwest. That partnership may have implications for how the federal government is viewing responses for the two states.
Other neighboring states around the country have formed joint pacts to determine when they ease restrictions together. When asked at her press conference today which states Gov. Kim Reynolds might want to be a part of for such a collaboration, she ticked off several Western Plains states.
“We’ve had conversations with the North Dakota governor, South Dakota governor, we’ve talked to the Wyoming governor, I’ve talked to Pete Ricketts, Gov. Ricketts, we talk probably at least once a week if not more,” Reynolds said. She also mentioned Missouri, and noted Illinois at the end of her comments.
“It just makes a lot of sense to look at it from a regional perspective,” she said.
Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah and Arkansas are the seven states without statewide stay-at-home orders for their populations (a few have regional orders). All have Republican governors.
Instead of stay-at-home orders, most of these governors have only issued recommendations for people to stay at home.
Reynolds seems to be working closest with Nebraska’s governor, Pete Ricketts, who has talked already about opening up the state, despite an expansion in cases outside of the more densely populated areas of Omaha and Lincoln.
Hall County, which is in the south-central area of the state and encompasses the city of Grand Island, has reported 197 cases — a per capita rate six times the statewide average. Grand Island is also home to a meatpacking plant that serves as the city’s biggest employer and has seen rising numbers of cases.
The outbreak at the JBS plant in Grand Island occurred relatively early on in the virus’ spread through the state, on April 3. Lessons learned from that outbreak may not have caught on in Nebraska’s neighboring states, as both South Dakota and Iowa are grappling with widespread outbreaks of their own at food processing centers.
According to the Grand Island Independent, cases are also popping up in smaller meat packing plants in smaller towns like Hastings and Fremont. Today, the Omaha World-Herald reported an outdoor outlet mall between Lincoln and Omaha announced a “soft” re-opening date of April 24.
Yet both Iowa and Nebraska are seeing a steady rise in cases.
Testing in both states is limited, so it’s likely the number of cases is higher than reported. In Iowa, tests have largely been reserved for people in hospitals, adults older than 60 who have symptoms and a chronic medical condition, anyone with symptoms who lives in a congregate setting — like long-term care facility or prison — and people who work on the frontlines of the disease with possible patients.
Last Friday, Donald Trump downplayed the need for widespread testing, specifically using Iowa and Nebraska both as examples because of their smaller populations and low population density.
“If we go to Iowa, if we go to Nebraska … you don’t need testing there,” Trump said. “You don’t have to test every person in the state of Iowa, for example … to be able to say let’s open up.”
Iowa and Nebraska are also in talks together with other parts of the federal government. Last week, Reynolds and Ricketts both had a call with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who said he approved of the states’ measures despite calling for governors to issue strict stay-at-home instructions.
“If you look at what’s going on in this country, I just don’t understand why we’re not doing that,” Fauci said the day before. “We really should be.”
After the call, Reynolds and Ricketts both Tweeted about Fauci’s comments, and Fauci later that day said as much at one of Trump’s press conferences.
Had a productive and positive phone call w/ Dr. Fauci and @GovRicketts today… Dr. Fauci was 100% supportive, saying that IA and NE are “on the same page” with guidance he’s providing other states.
— Gov. Kim Reynolds (@IAGovernor) April 6, 2020
.@IAGovernor and I just wrapped a call with Dr. Fauci. We briefed him on our #COVID19 social distancing rules. He supports our plans and says our states are “on the same page” with the direction he’s giving.
— Gov. Pete Ricketts (@GovRicketts) April 6, 2020
At the moment, Reynolds is holding off calls to ease restrictions in Iowa. In her press conference, Reynolds said she and her team don’t have any dates in mind, but are looking at data to determine when re-opening the state is safe.
“I’m not going to make any projections right now,” she said. “We’re hoping we can start that process in May but I’ll have to see where we’re at at the end of the month.”
She added that, though she may be talking with other governors, at the end of the day it’s an individual decision.
“I can tell you while we’ll look at it from a regional perspective and we’ll talk about, collectively, the metrics that we’re using each individual governor is going to look at their own state’s metrics,” she said. “While we can take a look at maybe finding some agreement in what those metrics may look like, every governor is going to have to take a look at what’s happening in their state and make those decisions based on what they’re seeing.”
by Nikoel Hytrek