Six Months After Closing Due To Covid, Some Businesses Still Haven't Reopened Their Doors
It’s been six months since many city halls, schools, offices and restaurants closed their doors due to the coronavirus pandemic. While much of the state is pushing to get back to some semblance of normalcy (despite disruptions and quarantines), some businesses haven’t opened their doors since.
Chef Katy Meyer hasn’t reopened the doors of Iowa City’s Trumpet Blossom Cafe to customers since March 15, relying solely on takeout orders.
In theory, she could once again seat customers inside, serve cocktails at the long wooden bar, or even host musicians on the stage towards the back of the restaurant. But she says for herself, her family, her staff and her customers, the risks of contracting or spreading the coronavirus are too great.
“There’s a risk involved with everything anyway. But if we can just lessen the risk for everybody while they’re here, and for our customers too, that just seems like the best decision for me,” Meyer said. “I don’t have any business partners. I don’t have investors. I get to make the decisions for my business. So I’m very lucky in that regard.”
But keeping her doors closed has had a major financial impact, she admits.
“Not everybody has been able to do that or has wanted to do that. And that works for some people and has consequences. And the decisions that we have made also have consequences,” she said. “I mean, my sales are like a third of what they were.”
"There’s a risk involved with everything anyway. But if we can just lessen the risk for everybody while they’re here, and for our customers too, that just seems like the best decision for me."
Over the past six months, much of Iowa first shut down, and then reopened, even as the virus continues to spread.
Iowa remains an outlier within the country, even as the United States remains an outlier globally, in terms of its rate of new cases of the virus.
The American death toll has been staggering. The number of COVID-19 deaths is higher in Iowa alone than in entire nations such as Israel, Nigeria, Australia and Costa Rica, according to a New York Times tracker.
The latest White House Coronavirus Task Force report for Iowa recommends establishing a statewide mask mandate, using stronger language than before. It says high community transmission is causing COVID-19 cases in nursing homes. Read the report: https://t.co/MCiawxEJl0— Katarina Sostaric (@KatarinaSos) September 16, 2020
In the past six months, Gov. Kim Reynolds has refused to implement a statewide mask mandate, as governors across the country have done. Her administration has also repeatedly declined to conform to recommendations and mandates from the federal government, including a recent requirement to regularly test all staff members at long-term care facilities.
Reynolds has consistently appealed to Iowans’ sense of “personal responsibility” to slow the spread of the virus, and highlighted the severe social impacts brought on by disruptions to everyday life.
“I’m trying to thread that needle. I’m trying to protect the health and safety of Iowans. I’m trying to protect the livelihoods of Iowans,” Reynolds told reporters earlier this week. “We’re trying to protect the impact of isolation. We’re trying to impact how we’ve seen tremendous increases in mental health and substance abuse.”
"I’m trying to protect the health and safety of Iowans. I’m trying to protect the livelihoods of Iowans. We’re trying to protect the impact of isolation. We’re trying to impact how we’ve seen tremendous increases in mental health and substance abuse."
After Reynolds lifted most restrictions in most parts of the state, how to reopen is largely left up to individual businesses, with caveats to ensure social distancing.
Bars remain closed in Johnson and Story Counties under an emergency proclamation that expires September 27. But earlier this week, bars in Black Hawk, Dallas, Linn and Polk Counties were allowed to reopen, after a surge of new cases in August began to stabilize.
Iowa's nursing homes say they need more test materials and funding to comply with new federal requirements for staff testing due to the state's positivity rate. @IAPublicHealth said this week it won't help. @KatarinaSos @IowaPublicRadio https://t.co/QLNLidmdRw— Natalie Krebs (@natalie_krebs) September 18, 2020
Sam Jarvis, Community Health Division Manager of Johnson County Public Health, says the seesaw of closing and reopening has presented a challenge for infectious disease experts and contact tracers hoping to track and manage the spread of the virus.
“It’s extremely disruptive if not chaotic for public health work. Certainly we’ve got a lot of persons here who have shifted a lot of their time and duties to respond,” Jarvis. “We've really got to learn how to mitigate this at the local level and know that everyone can do what they can to prevent transmission.”
"[T]he virus isn’t done with us. So what we need to do then is we need to support the business that are suffering until we get control of the virus [...] Unfortunately our leaders are not proceeding down that path.”
Daniel Diekema, the Director of the Infectious Diseases Division at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics says much of the state never sufficiently lowered community transmission to a level that would make it safe to broadly reopen the economy without cases spiraling out of control.
According to the latest White House Coronavirus Task Force report, 63 percent of Iowa’s counties have moderate or high levels of community spread.
“The unfortunate conclusion I come to as an epidemiologist is that we just have not created the conditions,” to reopen safely, he said. “And that’s due to our failures at the national and state level, going back to February or March.”
Diekema points to what he calls a “false dichotomy”: the notion that leaders must either choose between sustaining the economy or curbing the virus. They must do both, he says.
“Rather than deciding we’re not going to control viral transmission because we want to proceed, because we’re done with the virus…the virus isn’t done with us. So what we need to do then is we need to support the business that are suffering until we get control of the virus,” Diekema said. “Unfortunately our leaders are not proceeding down that path.”