With no shelter-in-place order in Iowa, Johnson County supervisors ask nonessential businesses to scale back operations

County officials are continuing to take steps to urge the governor to consider a shelter-in-place order while equipping local entities to combat COVID-19.


Emily Wangen

Johnson County Supervisors Rod Sullivan and Royceeann Porter listen to a presentation during a meeting on Thursday, Feb. 12, 2020.

Marissa Payne, Editor-in-Chief

Johnson County Board of Supervisors Chair Rod Sullivan said Friday the supervisors are asking nonessential businesses to scale back their operations and reduce the number of employees in the workspace to contain the spread of COVID-19.

With Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’ announcement Thursday of the extension of her directive to close nonessential businesses including restaurants, bars, retail shops, and other stores through April 7, Sullivan said in a press conference Friday that many Johnson County businesses are affected.

The supervisors are now “asking Johnson County businesses not affected by the expanded declaration, if they have not already done so, to consider modifying their operations to reduce the number of employees physically in the workspace,” Sullivan said.

This is a message the supervisors hope businesses take into account and act on accordingly, he said, but the county officials aren’t taking formal steps to contact anyone or to enforce closure.

He said employers should allow employees who can to telework, implement staggered shifts or a rotation of in-office staff to encourage social distancing, and implement flexible sick-leave policies to encourage workers to stay home if they’re feeling unwell.

“… A number of businesses not affected by the declaration have elected to scale back their operations to encourage social distancing and help contain the spread of the COVID-19 in our community,” he said. “To all those businesses, we thank you.”

The supervisors’ call for adapted business operations is not a shelter-in-place order that local-government officials have weighed in recent days. Governors in neighboring states including Illinois and Minnesota are among at least 23 states in the country to have taken such measures, while local governments in other states such as Kansas and Missouri have taken it upon themselves to order residents to stay inside their homes.

Sullivan said the county attorney thinks the supervisors do not have the power to issue such an order and county officials are working to determine whether that understanding is correct, but in the meantime, the supervisors plan to send a letter to Reynolds urging her to consider taking “the next step.”

RELATED: Johnson County Board of Supervisors asks Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds for a shelter-in-place order

However, he said many officials remain uncertain what the effects would be of a shelter-in-place order compared with the current steps taken to encourage people to stay inside and practice social distancing as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Iowa Department of Public Health.

“Please be kind, please be calm, please be patient,” he said. “That’ll help everybody get through everything.”

Local health-care officials at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and Mercy Hospital have raised concerns about the potential effects of a shelter-in-place order.

UI Vice President for Medical Affairs Brooks Jackson said Wednesday that while current methods are in place such as the business closures and ban on gatherings of more than 10 people, it was unnecessary to implement further restrictions, which he feared would disrupt the economy, impair the hospitals’ supply chain, and disproportionately affect underrepresented communities and low-wage workers.

Johnson County Emergency Management Director Dave Wilson on Friday said Johnson County was better-positioned than many counties in terms of supplies at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak locally because of the preparedness efforts from the Ebola outbreak, but now that stockpile is depleting.

RELATED: Iowa hasn’t issued a shelter-in-place order. What is it?

Dating back to March 8 when Reynolds announced the first three positive cases of the novel coronavirus in Iowa, all in Johnson County, Wilson said county officials distributed nearly 18,000 N95 masks locally. Another 2,000 should arrive early next week, which will be distributed equally for each of the local hospitals, Wilson said, and around 10,000 surgical masks will also come soon.

He added officials have provided and will continue to provide gowns, bleach, and face shields to businesses ranging from nursing homes to ambulance services with employees who have direct patient contact in a vulnerable area.

From the state’s side of the supply chain, Wilson said the county has received around 960 N95 masks, 1,500 procedure masks, and 1,080 face shields from previously held caches or from the state’s allocation from the Strategic National Stockpile received in Des Moines.

Supplying those on the front lines working at the hospitals and then ensuring nursing homes are supplied are the county’s priorities in distributing personal protective equipment, Wilson said.

“We’ll first, always, backfill the two local hospitals to make sure their shortfalls are taken care of,” he said. “The next one on our priority scale locally is those nursing homes, because … they’ve got a large vulnerable population.”