Iowans ready to act, with leadership

EDITORIAL

BY ART CULLEN

Gov. Kim Reynolds made the right call Sunday to recommend that schools cancel classes for four weeks. The Storm Lake School District did even better when it cancelled classes and announced Monday that it would set up feeding stations to make certain that children do not go wanting. Breakfast and lunch will be made available at the high school and at mobile sites. That’s leadership.

Iowans are making the right choice by staying home when possible. God forgives you for missing Sunday services, and if you stayed away from the brunch afterwards. Those who must work are doing so with appropriate caution. Even for the toilet paper hoarders, neighbors are looking out for each other, keeping a distance, and trying to help each other cope through one of the most difficult periods most of us have witnessed.

Fourteen of the 22 cases reported as of Tuesday were from a tour group to Egypt. Reynolds reported two cases of “community spread” — where the patient did not travel or come in contact with a known coronavirus carrier — which suggests that the caseload is about to expand exponentially. It is only a matter of time before the virus emerges in Storm Lake.

The key is to keep the number of cases as low as possible to not overwhelm our medical capacity. That’s why it’s important to cancel school for the time being, to postpone events and conferences, and to stay out of crowded bars and restaurants until the virus passes.

The best all of us can do is follow the easy instructions: stay away from others, wash your hands frequently, keep your hands away from your face (good luck), disinfect your spaces, and eat and sleep well. Keep up your immunity as you can.

We can do even better with more information from local, state and federal authorities.

President Trump has made misstatements and exaggerations that public health experts have to correct, sometimes during the same media availability. Testing barely exists today, so the public really has no idea how widespread or severe this problem is. His administration turned down the offer of test kits from the World Health Organization. Doctors and other health providers remain frustrated over the lack of federal response to equipment needs. The administration has had months to prepare, yet basic materials remain unavailable. Even Senegal tests at a higher rate than the USA. It is a failure.

Reynolds was slow to unroll information to the public, perhaps waiting on a cue from the White House that never comes. We were surprised that state athletic tournaments went on, considering that the risks of the virus were well known, and concerned that schools were going on as normal. Iowa is not a hotspot but it is vulnerable. After state universities went online only, after professional sports leagues dropped competition, after the NCAA tournaments were cancelled, and the markets crashed, the governor started making herself more available and announced her school-closing recommendation. She started to pick up speed, and to her credit has started to organize a better public information effort.

Likewise, local authorities that no doubt are trying to figure out what to say, in the absence of much state and federal guidance, have not been available to explain how they are planning for this present crisis, or to tell anxious local people what they should do.

All need to do better.

We need more testing, more information about the threat as it emerges, assurances from the health care complex that it is figuring out how to meet the region’s needs, and more clear direction from the governor.

Every Iowan will be ready to do their part if they understand the stakes, and know what role they are supposed to play. Confusion causes runs at the store on toilet paper or runs on the bank for cash. We all need to work together. That starts with accurate information first gathered, and then readily shared. This is an extraordinary event in our history that requires extraordinary leadership and cooperation.

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