‘This question is on everyone’s mind’: Linn County, Cedar Rapids officials weigh issuing a local shelter-in-place order

Video still of Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker speaking at press conference on March 23, 2020. ASL interpreter in the foreground.

Gov. Kim Reynolds has repeatedly said the state is not ready to issue a shelter-in-place, even though the governors of neighboring states like Illinois and Wisconsin have issued such orders.

“At this point we are not in a place where we would order a shelter-in-place or a stay-at-home,” Reynolds said during her Monday press conference on the state’s response to COVID-19. “We are continuing to evaluate what those metrics would look like.”

“We want to make sure that we’re making these decisions based on data and based on metrics so that we can be consistent in what we’re telling Iowans to make sure that we’re not shutting down a state where we don’t need to.”

Reynolds said that local officials have the authority to issue a shelter-in-place order for their municipalities, if they determine it is a necessity. Discussions regarding that possibility have already begun in eastern Iowa.

As of Tuesday morning, there are 124 confirmed cases in Iowa. Six are in Linn County, and 37 in Johnson County.

During a press conference featuring Linn County and Cedar Rapids officials on Monday, Supervisor Stacey Walker was asked about the possibility of a local shelter-in-place order.

“This question is on everyone’s mind,” Walker replied. The supervisor said he is in favor of pursuing shelter-in-place orders, based on the data he has seen and the comments he has heard from physicians.

Walker cited data from COVID Act Now, an online resource created by scientists, public health officials and other experts to help people understand the likely impact of the pandemic in the area where they live.

“With no action, this model, at least, is projecting nearly 69,000 hospitalizations on April 24, with only about 6,000 beds available in the state, which is 10 percent of what would be required,” Walker said. “But as you heard, with proper social distancing, the crest of the transmission curve would occur in the middle of May, with fewer hospitalizations. But with an extended shelter-in-place order, the peak occurs then in June, and the number of hospitalizations would fall to under 1,000.”

Projections for Iowa created by COVID Act Now. An interactive version of the graph can be found online.

However, he acknowledged that there is more to consider, because the order would only be effective if different municipalities, like Cedar Rapids and Marion, participate.

“I am in favor of this, and I would encourage my peers in local government to consider it, but I know that there are lots of things they need to balance,” Walker said.

Brad Hart, the mayor of Cedar Rapids, told the Gazette he’s not in favor of a local shelter-in-place order and wants Reynolds to take action. However, he did acknowledge a local order is being discussed and a meeting with Linn and Johnson county officials about it was possible.

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Cedar Rapids City Manager Jeff Pomeranz said during Monday’s press conference that the order “makes a lot of sense for our area” based on what he has heard from physicians and other experts. But before a decision is made, Pomeranz said “full and open” discussions need to happen, and he’d like to see more information.

“There’s just a lot of study that still has to be done on this,” Pomeranz said. “I know we don’t have a lot of time so we need to move quickly.”

Linn County Monday 3/23 COVID-19 Update

WATCH: Officials in Linn County provide an update to the public on their response to the spread of COVID-19.

Posted by KCRG-TV9 on Monday, March 23, 2020

Dr. Tony Myers of Mercy Medical Center said, “the next three weeks will determine how well we get through this.” During Monday’s press conference, he encouraged individuals to continue practicing social distancing and limit trips to the store.

“We need to be outside and breathe the fresh air, but going to the store is not the way to do it right now,” Myers said. “We need to really tighten this down.”

“If you look at best case scenarios of countries that have done really good — tight social distancing, staying at home — you’re looking at a rate of doubling every four days,” he said, adding that these numbers are based on good social isolation. “So that doesn’t sound too bad but you say eight [cases] and then 16 and 32, and rapidly within three weeks, we are looking at over 200 cases a day, and those are new cases.”

Hospitals will be put in a difficult position when it comes to trying to separate patients, having enough critical care beds and ventilators, Myers said.

“We’ll be OK if we do what we’re supposed to do … which this community is already way ahead of a lot of communities,” Myers said, adding how restaurants, bars and transportation have shut down.

“All of those things are the smart, right thing to do, so we’re already in a way better position than we would have been if we hadn’t done that.”