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The governor announced last Monday that restaurants, fitness centers, enclosed malls, libraries, and other retail establishments (that were previously closed) will be allowed to open on May 1st in all counties, except these 22 counties with a heavier pandemic outbreak: Allamakee, Benton, Bremer, Black Hawk, Dallas, Des Moines, Dubuque, Fayette, Henry, Iowa, Jasper, Johnson, Linn, Louisa, Marshall, Muscatine, Polk, Poweshiek, Scott, Tama, Washington, and Woodbury. That means 77 counties will have some restrictions on businesses and establishments lifted. These 77 counties are the ones with no or light COVID outbreak.

The following conditions will apply to those establishments allowed to open in the 77 counties:

  • Limiting occupancy to 50% of normal capacity;
  • Practice social distancing of at least 6 feet between equipment or tables.
    • Tables at restaurants will be limited to 6 people
  • Implementing reasonable measures to ensure social distancing of employees and customers, increased hygiene practices, and other public measures to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 consistent with guidance provided by the Department of Public Health and the Department of Inspections and Appeals.
  • Additional requirements from IDPH apply. See the website.

Racetracks (not including horse or dog races) may open without spectators.

All other establishments previously closed in those 77 counties are to remain closed. Unfortunately, the establishments in the 22 counties with a heavier COVID outbreak that were previously closed are to remain as they were for the time being.

Social, community, recreational, leisure, and sporting gatherings and events of more than 10 people continue closed statewide as they have been.

Elective surgeries were allowed to resume last Monday and schools shall remain closed for the remainder of the school year as was announced previously.

The restrictions on Region 6, which consists of Allamakee, Benton, Black Hawk, Bremer, Buchanan, Clayton, Delaware, Dubuque, Fayette, Grundy, Howard, Jones, Linn, and Winneshiek counties, expired on April 30th. So, if you live in Region 6 and also in one of the “22 counties” you will follow the restrictions for those counties outlined above. If you live in Region 6 and also in one of the 77 counties you will follow the restrictions for those counties, also outlined above.

This is a good start and I will continue to advocate with the governor to increase the re-opening of our state. More needs to be done as there are many services that need to resume and employers and employees that need to have their livelihoods restored that cannot stay afloat much longer. The health data that we are getting are indicating this can be done safely and responsibly as was explained in the previous newsletter.

If we wait too long to reopen Iowa, irreparable harm could be done not only to our economy, but to the overall health and well-being of Iowans. Many Iowans have gone and are currently going without critical medical care, including mental health and preventative care. Child abuse cases are down, but that’s due to a decrease in the number of reports, not actual abuse. SNAP and FIP enrollments are up indicating families struggling to put food on the table and stay afloat. Experts worry about shutdown-induced domestic violence, alcohol and drug abuse, pornography use, anxiety, depression, suicide, and food insecurity. Early indicators some of these are spiking upward in some places. These are the unintended yet costly consequences that will remain to be seen when we are past these unprecedented times.

Church Services May Resume Statewide

Church services and spiritual and religious gatherings, including weddings and funerals (but not wedding receptions, which will be limited to 10 people or less), are no longer prohibited but may resume statewide beginning May 1st, but a church, synagogue, or other host of a spiritual, or religious gathering shall implement reasonable measures under the circumstances of each gathering to ensure social distancing of employees, volunteers, and other participants.

I applaud this action as it restores respect for our 1st Amendment religious freedom right while still maintaining health protections in place. It is the least restrictive way of accomplishing the government’s goal of protecting public health without infringing on 1st Amendment freedoms. The “least restrictive” means is the legal standard required to be used when government considers taking an action that would infringe on a constitutional right.
Assistance for Livestock Producers

On Thursday, April 30, 2020, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) announced that IDALS has formed a Resource Coordination Center (RCC) to support Iowa livestock producers affected by the COVID-19 supply chain disruptions.  COVID-19 outbreaks in the workforce are causing many meat processing facilities to run below normal operating capacity or else close.  That’s creating numerous challenges for producers who are trying to ship market-ready livestock to meat processing plants. It is forcing them to make unimaginable decisions including euthanizing hogs and disposing of carcasses.  IDALS has partnered with the Pork Producers Association and ISU Extension to help connect producers with information and resources as they work through this difficult time. Farmers are encouraged to call in with questions or go to the website to look at the resources available in order to make the best decision for their individualized farm situation and to work through difficult and emotional decisions, including animal welfare euthanasia and disposal.  Iowa livestock producers can call the RCC at (515) 725-1005, Monday through Friday between 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m., or fill out a help form anytime at iowafarmerhelp.com . They can also call the Iowa Concern Hotline at 1-800-447-1985 to get free, confidential support, 24/7.

Pass the Pork

 

On Monday April 27th, Governor Reynolds, Secretary Naig, and the Iowa Pork Producers Association launched “Pass the Pork” Program to help feed Iowans. This is a partnership with Iowa food banks, meat processors, and hog producers. Iowa pig farmers are donating pigs to Iowa food bank feeding programs. Local meat processors are extending their hours of operation to process and package the pork donations to help meet the growing demand for food bank and food pantry resources. Iowa food banks are getting the pork into the hands of those in need. Pork producers face a desperate situation with even the temporary closure of meat packing plants where they have to euthanize hundreds of hogs because there is nowhere for them to go. To prevent some of this good meat from going to waste, pork producers have found a way to get it into the hands of families and local communities who are in need of high protein food especially at this time when people are unemployed and demand on food banks is high.

The pigs for “Pass the Pork” are being donated by Iowa pig farmers. However, there are costs associated with the processing, storage, and delivery of the pork to food banks and pantries. Iowans can contribute to the Iowa Food Bank Association to help cover these costs and future purchases of Iowa-produced pork for food bank programs. To donate funds to help support this program, visit the Iowa Food Bank Association website at donorbox.org/passthepork .

Iowa pig farmers and meat processors who are interested in participating in the program should contact the Iowa Pork Producers Association at (515) 225-7675.

Returning to Work & Unemployment Benefits

Iowans who have been placed on a temporary layoff related to COVID-19 but refuse to return to work when recalled by their employer will lose unemployment benefits, except for certain circumstances including:

  • If you have tested positive for COVID-19 and are experiencing symptoms;
  • If you have recovered but it caused medical complications rendering you unable to perform essential job duties;
  • If a member of your household has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
  • If you are providing care for a member of your household who was diagnosed with COVID-19;
  • If you do not have childcare due to COVID-19 reasons; or
  • If you do not have transportation to your place of work because of COVID-19.

Employees in any of these positions are strongly encouraged to work with their employer in the best way to handle the situation to return to work.

Refusing to return to work when recalled for any other reason, or in an attempt to continue to draw unemployment benefits will be considered a “voluntary quit” which would disqualify a claimant from receiving benefits, including the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation benefit of $600/weekly.

Businesses should report employees who refuse to return to work without good reason or who quit their jobs as soon as possible to IWD at https://www.iowaworkforcedevelopment.gov/job-offer-decline-form-employers

An employee who is recalled on a part-time basis may continue to be eligible for benefits depending on the amount of wages they earn.  They should continue filing their weekly claims and report the gross wages they earned each week.

Additionally, the self-employed should continue to report their weekly gross income as part of their continuing claims as they return to work.

The additional unemployment benefits ($600 per week) that are provided under the CARES Act are meant to be temporary in nature and bridge the gap between the outbreak and a return to normal.

While an employee may have temporarily earned more in benefits than they earn in wages, the CARES Act outlines serious consequences for fraud, including fines, confinement and ineligibility for future unemployment benefits until all fraudulent claims and fines have been repaid should an individual continue to claim benefits they are not otherwise eligible for because of a change in their employment situation.

For Iowans whose employment may be permanently affected by the outbreak, Iowa Workforce Development has many training opportunities under Future Ready Iowa to help them obtain training and begin a new career in a high-demand job.

Keep Updated:  For more detailed information and guidance on the coronavirus emergency in Iowa, go to this website:  https://coronavirus.iowa.gov/
More information on assistance for small business can be found at IowaBusinessRecovery.com.

Gov. Reynolds is holding regular press conferences to keep the public informed on the state’s response. These press conferences are held at 11:00 a.m. Sunday through Friday. You can watch on the Governor’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/IAGovernor/
A status report of monitoring and testing of COVID19 in Iowa is provided by IDPH and can be found here. In addition, a public hotline has been established for Iowans with questions about COVID-19. The line is available 24/7 by calling 2-1-1 or 1-800-244-7431.

Wash hands, social distance, keep praying, stay home (if possible), stay well, stay healthy, stay hopeful!! God will help us! Blessings!

Sandy Salmon

Author: Sandy Salmon