Hard-Hit Iowa Communities Cautious, Slow To Reopen

As Gov. Kim Reynolds continues to reopen Iowa, community members and businesses throughout the state are taking a more cautious approach.

In West Liberty, Melanie Clark, a history teacher at the local school district, says now is not the time to reopen. She says the state has not done nearly enough testing to contain the spread.

“I don’t think it was time to reopen, in fact, we never really closed down completely and I think that was a part of the problem,” she said.

Clark stays home most days, only leaving for the essentials.

When she does leave the house, she rides fully equipped with a bottle of hand sanitizer in her middle console, a mask on her face and sanitizing wipes on hand. She also uses curbside pickup services to minimize person-to-person interaction.

“It’s a whole production which is why we don’t go out very often,” Clark said.

On Clark’s most recent grocery run to Iowa City, she noticed a lot more traffic, but she says community members in West Liberty are being extra careful.

“West Liberty has been more cautious in reopening,” noting that only a couple of restaurants have opened back up for dine-in.

In a recent trip to one of the town’s gas stations, Clark noticed that the store was nearly empty, a plexiglass shield separated her and the cashier and the store had shortened hours.

A normal summer for Clark and her daughter would include museums and movie theaters, but not this summer. Clark says she would consider zoos and other activities that allow for social distancing.

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Clark says the outbreak at the town’s local turkey plant, where over 100 workers contracted COVID-19, plays a factor in the community’s decisions to reopen. “Community members are aware of how dangerous another potential spike would be,” she said.

However, even in communities where the virus has not been as widespread, businesses are still taking things slow.

In Vinton, La Reyna, a community staple since 1991, is keeping it’s dining room closed despite the Governor allowing restaurants to open at 50 percent capacity.

Denise Pérez, a University of Iowa student and server at her aunt’s restaurant, says the decision was made to protect their employees and customers.

“We decided to stay open with only curbside carryout,” Pérez said.

The restaurant immediately switched to curbside service when the Governor ordered all restaurants dine-in services closed on March 17.

“We did have to make adjustments to our open hours and our menu,” Pérez added. La Reyna is now closed two days a week, has shorter hours and offers more family specials to accommodate the needs of the average American home.

Pérez says employees are required to wear masks and gloves and that they disinfect everything in the restaurant every night.

She says the town has been supportive of the restaurant’s decisions.

A global health major, Pérez has helped her family evaluate their options but as for right now, they have decided to not reopen until the entire community feels comfortable.

“We’re taking this opportunity to open up as slowly and cautiously as we can,” she said.

Pérez also acknowledged that outbreaks in neighboring communities have played a factor in her family’s decisions.

As for long term impacts, Clark hopes people will reevaluate how society operates and that voters will not re-elect leaders who failed to respond to the crisis. She also says that states will reconsider the state-federal relationship, as “it didn’t seem to work this time.”

“It’s never going to be the same again. I hope we learn from our mistakes,” the history teacher commented.


by Michael Aragon
Posted 5/26/20

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