Iowa Board of Medicine calls for shelter-in-place order

Nurses' station in a busy hospital.
A University of Iowa epidemiologist says Iowa is reopening too soon and risking overwhelming hospitals with COVID-19 cases. (Photo by FS Productions/Getty Images)

The Iowa Board of Medicine voted unanimously Friday to recommend that Gov. Kim Reynolds issue a shelter-in-place order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

The decision comes in the wake of a letter sent to the governor by the Iowa Medical Society, which represents 6,800 Iowa physicians. The IMS has recommended the governor issue a shelter-in-place order for at least two weeks.

Iowa, Nebraska, Arkansas, South Dakota and North Dakota are the only states without a statewide shelter-in-place order in effect. Seven other states are subject to local or regional shelter-in-place orders. Gov. Kim Reynolds this week extended selected business closures to April 30 and recommended schools stay closed through that date but she has not issued a statewide order for people to stay home.

The Iowa Board of Medicine met in emergency session Friday morning and voted unanimously to recommend the governor issue a statewide shelter-in-place order. The precise wording of the board’s letter has yet to be determined.

Board member Dr. Nikhil Wagle of Bettendorf said the move is warranted because infections are expected to peak in Iowa around April 30.

“When you look at states that have implemented a shelter-in-place or stay-at-home mandate, they have been shown to do better,” he said. “California did it several weeks in advance and if you look at their population relative to New York City, they can be somewhat similar but there are a lot less cases, and a lot less deaths, in the state of California versus New York City. Look at Ohio, which also did it pretty early. They also seem to be in a better position than states like Michigan and Louisiana.”

He said it’s clear that while some Iowans are following the governor’s suggestion that they stay at home, others are not, which puts everyone at risk.

“I look at my own neighborhood, and I see people still not doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” he said. “You know, there’s groups of 10 or more people congregating in people’s yards.”

He said he recognizes that order might be ignored by some of the Iowans who so far aren’t following the governor’s suggestions.

“But even if only 30 percent of the public listens to it, that’s still 30 percent more than would have listened if we didn’t have it,” he said. “We have golf courses that are still open.”

Wagle said that with neighboring Illinois having issued a shelter-in-place order, some residents of that state are crossing the border to take advantage of the greater freedom offered in Iowa. That is putting communities on Iowa’s eastern border at even greater risk, he said.

“From a health care (standpoint), there’s no negatives to putting a state mandate in,” he said. “There are only positives that can happen. Now, if you look at things from the economic side, there can be negatives.”

Board member Joyce Vista-Wayne, a Clive psychiatrist, said she’s concerned that the shelter-in-place issue has become political, and said the tone of the letter to Reynolds needs to be “collaborative — as opposed to prescriptive, saying ‘You should do this.’ ”

“There so much political undertones to this, which is unfortunate,” she said. “I would rather that if anything happens it’s not because members of a congressional delegation pressured the administration or the governor to do this, or because we are one of the states that has not mandated shelter in place, or because we are a state with a Republican governor.”

Pamela William, executive vice president of the Iowa Academy of Family Physicians, told the board her organization’s executive committee is in favor of “any steps that would result in more isolation” of Iowa’s population. She said some Iowans are engaging in high-risk behavior and cited “the cavalier attitude of some of the nay-sayers” who question the threat posed by COVID-19.

“Overall, we feel that we need to have more encouragement of isolation among the public,” she said.

The academy represents 1,800 family physicians, medical residents and students in Iowa.

Clark Kauffman
Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.