Iowa Press Special: Coronavirus

Apr 3, 2020  | 57 min  | Ep 4732 | Podcast | Transcript

Podcast

On this Iowa Press Special: Coronavirus, a panel of experts participate in a live discussion of the unemployment, legal and health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and take viewer questions.

The panel includes Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, Iowa Workforce Development Director Beth Townsend and Dr. Rossana Rosa, infectious disease specialist at UnityPoint Health. Joining moderator David Yepsen at the Iowa Press table will are Erin Murphy, Des Moines bureau chief for Lee Enterprises.

Viewers experiencing their own adverse medical symptoms are encouraged to call 2-1-1 or reach out to their individual medical providers.

Program support provided by: Associated General Contractors of Iowa and Iowa Bankers Association.

 


 

COVID-19 Legal Information Hotline
800.332.0419
Provided by: Iowa Legal Aid, Iowa State Bar Association, Polk County Volunteer Lawyers Project
Help with evictions, foreclosures, employment, domestic violence, child custody, living wills, business issues, and more. 

File a Consumer Complaint
Web form: www.iowaattorneygeneral.gov
Phone: 515.281.5926 or toll-free 888.777.4590
Email: consumer@ag.iowa.gov

 


Yepsen:

As Americans face a global pandemic, the state of Iowa is also confronting the social and economic challenges. We sit down with a trio of Iowa experts to dive into unemployment, legal issues and health concerns in the era of a coronavirus outbreak on this special hour long edition of Iowa Press.

 

Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. I'm a dad. I am a mom. I'm a kid. I'm a kid at heart. I'm a banker. I'm an Iowa banker. No matter who you are, there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks.

 

(music)

 

Celebrating nearly 50 years of public affairs coverage on statewide Iowa PBS, this is an Iowa Press special edition on the coronavirus pandemic. Here is David Yepsen.

 

(music)

Yepsen:

As a global pandemic spreads throughout the country, Americans face unprecedented changes to daily life and many Iowans have important questions pertaining to their health and safety with the potential of infection. Joining us to discuss these concerns are Iowa Workforce Development Director Beth Townsend. Dr. Rossanna Rosa, an infectious disease specialist at UnityPoint Health. And joining us remotely is Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller. General Miller. Thank you for being with us.

Miller:

Thank you, David, for having me.

Yepsen:

Also joining us at the table is Erin Murphy, Des Moines Bureau Chief for Lee Enterprises. Now, we've expanded our regular format on Iowa Press to a full one hour and you can see the many ways to submit potential questions for our experts via email and social media or through our 800 number listed on the screen. We'll incorporate some of your questions into the back half of the program. And as we begin this discussion, we'll take a look at the unprecedented level of weekly unemployment claims in Iowa the past two weeks eclipsing previous spikes during the recessions of 2001, the recessions of 2008 through 2010. Director Townsend, what are we looking at here? What does this tell you?

Townsend:

Well, it certainly is unprecedented and historical but what sets it apart from the recession is this was such a steep and almost immediate or overnight spike in unemployment claims. So the week of the 16th of March is when we first started to see the number of claims increase dramatically from what we had seen in Iowa. We've been so blessed in Iowa with very low unemployment for a very sustained period of time. And so to go from 45,000 unemployed in one month to 40,000 unemployed in a single week is a dramatic change.

Yepsen:

You know, some people have contended t's a hard time to get through to your office, that the volume of calls seeking information about getting benefits. How are you handling that? Is it, how big a problem is it?

Townsend:

Well, we normally, on a given day, we would, we would get maybe 400 or 500 calls a day. This past week we've averaged 21,000 calls a day. So we early on we retrained much of our staff that were not working in the area of unemployment insurance to be able to work in the call center. So we've deployed about 250 staff workers who are working primarily from home to be on the call center. I do know that when you call and go through the menu to select what service it is you need that you will hear phone the phone ringing for three to five minutes that's on your end. And that's just unfortunately the way the system works. We are there to answer and if you just hang on the line, get through that ringing, it'll then go silent for a few minutes. It's taking us 15 to 20 minutes to answer for the most part. And so if you just call, hang on the line until someone you hear a voice on the other end, they will get you the help that you need.

Yepsen:

20 minutes?

Townsend:

Roughly, yes.

Yepsen:

Erin?

Murphy:

Dr. Rosa, one of the great debates going on right now in Iowa is over whether the Governor Kim Reynolds should issue a shelter at home order for the state. Iowa is one of only five states that has no shelter at home order for any part of the state. In your expert medical opinion should Iowa go to that? Should Iowa join the other states that have shelter at home orders?

Rosa:

You know, I think it is important to acknowledge what Governor Reynolds has done so far. Indeed, she has taken many measures aimed at keeping people at home and she has issued recommendations for people to stay at home and only leave their house for essentials. I think some of the concerns that many, you know, medical groups might have many, you know, healthcare providers like myself might have is that we are not sure if some people are actually taking that seriously. And then we do think that's, you know, we wonder would actually something more strict and formal would really bring home that message that the only thing that will get us through this is, is physical distancing, is staying at home.

Murphy:

And that's going to get that the whole voluntary versus mandatory question. Right. And, and we hear that from readers and viewers all the time as I see big groups still going out and doing that here. Is that what you're getting at?

Rosa:

Yeah, yeah. You know, I mean, I do think that and in a way I, you know, I recognize that it's, it's a very Iowa thing to say, to expect that Iowans will do the right thing because that is, you know, that's my experience. You know, as somebody who moved here from you know, from another country, from another state, I've seen that Iowans, you know, are people that in general, you know, take things seriously, you know, are very mindful and law abiding. But these are extraordinary times. You know, we don't need a majority. We need everyone to follow, to heed this advice.

Murphy:

And then what are the added public health benefits? And you might've touched on that a little bit, but maybe expand on that. But when you go to that order and people are actually required to stay home other than for emergency or essential trips, what are the added public health benefits of that?

Rosa:

So, you know, when it comes to the spread of the virus, it's, it's you know, it's, it's a numbers game essentially. A lot of, you know, the virus spreads from person to person and not only that, but it's only the amount of opportunities that the virus will have to come in contact between people and you know, so the more opportunities there are for people to interact and to interact in close proximity, that is what will sustain the infection and sustain the spread. The chains of transmission are invisible. We cannot see them, but they are there and we, we are the vectors for this actually. So those chains of transmission will only be cut. The rate of spread will only be cut if people stay home.

Yepsen:

Mr. Miller, I want to go back to this question of a shelter in place. If the Governor were to issue such an order, how would things be different? It already seems like we're being asked to stay home and our businesses are closed. Is this just a semantical argument that we're having or discussion? What difference would it make if she did declare that

Miller:

Governor Reynolds has, you know, issued executive orders on a number of, of these issues and has really come close to a shelter in place or a stay at home order? It's, it's almost virtually the same. The assistant attorney general Heather Adams prepared for me a diagram today in terms of businesses in Minnesota, which has an order and Iowa, which doesn't, and it's virtually the same. So it's, it's, it's very, very similar. You know, that there would be some more enforcement opportunities, but states that have a shelter in place, you know, are not going out and arresting people or issuing citations. There would be a little different process in terms of what businesses are open and, and how that would go. But as I said, Iowa and Minnesota turn out to be, to be roughly the same. So it's, it's really quite similar. And Dr. Rosa is right that it's, it's a question of people's compliance and you know, I would just ask all Iowans to comply and stay at home, stay away from people exactly as, as the Governor has asked and, and, and others have asked. And, and, and speaking of Dr. Rosa you know, I, I have just such great admiration for the medical profession. I was born and raised in a family where my mom was the saint and one of many reasons, she was the saint is she was a nurse. I've had great respect for the medical profession and never more than, than today of course. What they are doing in, in risking their lives and their health for the rest of us is extraordinary. And it should be very uplifting for all the rest of us.

Yepsen:

Well, General, I agree with you. My mother was a nurse too. So we're in agreement there. Go back to your issue.

Miller:

We have advantages of being raised well.

Yepsen:

That's right. Go back to this question of shelter in place. Some local communities around Iowa have wanted to do this on their own and they first were told, yes, fine, and now, now they're told, no, they can't do this. Whatever happened to local control?

Miller:

Well you know, home rule is, is what you're talking about. But home rule does have some, some limitations. And but the one, the basic limitation is that it can't be inconsistent with state law. And that's, that's what, what happens here that that this is an enormous pandemic and health crisis. And the Governor and the Department of Public Health have taken actions, very comprehensive actions. So they have, they have sort of occupied the field. They're not sort of, they have occupied the field, the presumption concept. And the other thing is that on home rule a city or a county cannot permit something or out prohibit something that that's permitted by the state. So it's a matter of preemption and it's a matter of the full part of the home rule language that, that it can't conflict with state policy, state orders.

Yepsen:

Well do you think the legislature and the Governor should get some clarifying language because it's pretty clear that Iowa City and Cedar Rapids have one kind of problem and people, Western Iowa have another kind of problem. So it would seem reasonable that their response might be different than what you expect in a Northwest Iowa for example.

Miller:

Well you know, there certainly is, there's certainly an argument there. There is also an argument for, for a state wide policy that that this is something that the Department of Health as the expertise, the Governor has the authority, that while some places may not have exactly the same problem, now potentially they do. And of course as, as we've said if the Governor decided the governor can delegate this authority to cities and counties, that's, that's an option for her.

Murphy:

Dr. Townsend, we wanted to get your perspective on this too from an economic and workforce perspective. Governor Reynolds said, I believe it was today at her daily news briefing that even under a shelter at home order, roughly 80% of businesses in Iowa would be classified as essential anyways and remain open. But for that 20% that wouldn't be do you have concerns when you look at that as far as an economic impact or, or on the state's workforce, what adding those extra businesses and those closures and what that could further do to what's already happening in the Iowa economy?

Townsend:

Well, we are appreciative that we are still open for business in the sense that so many Iowans can continue to work. When you think about it, we have on, in February we had 1.7 million Iowans in the workforce. So even if you have, as we did this last week, a little over a hundred thousand weekly and continuing claims, that's still, you know, 1.5, 1.6 million Iowans who are able to go to work. And there is nothing like economic security to help alleviate the anxieties that a lot of Iowans face. I think we've seen a lot of the surge that we've seen are from those businesses that are, have been closed, like the restaurants and the hospitality industry. This week we started taking claims for the self-employed, the gig economy workers, the owners of those restaurants and bars and things that have been closed. And so I think we've seen a lot of that already into our unemployment claims. And it's, we're fortunate that we have so many people who can still get up and go to work in the morning.

Yepsen:

Director Townsend, people hear all these stories about Congress passing more aid and people being included in benefits going up. And the question immediately comes to my, well, when do we get our check? We hear about more benefits and, and people getting benefits who didn't qualify before, what is a viewer supposed to think? When can they expect to see some of this aid? How do they go about qualifying for it?

Townsend:

Sure. So the CARES Act, which is the one that provides the unemployment benefits, the self-employed independent contractors, non-profit employees and gig economy workers and then also provides that $600 weekly benefit that those who are receiving unemployment qualify for was passed and signed into law last Friday. So DOL issued guidance, we received guidance last night --

Yepsen:

-- from the Department of Labor.

Townsend:

Yes. that we needed to be able to implement. These are new processes, you know, we don't normally provide unemployment benefits to the self-employed, so that's a new process. We also don't pay additional money beyond unemployment benefits. So that's another process. But we are confident that we're going to be able to start getting money out the door, get those programs implemented in the not too distant future. And by that I mean within the next several weeks.

Yepsen:

So someone who calls in and waits for 20 minutes, will they be able to get some answers about their specific situation?

Townsend:

Absolutely. Well, it's the same answer for questions relating to when am I going to see that $600 weekly benefit. And people need to keep in mind that those benefit programs started March 30th. So as long as you have filed and are qualified for unemployment and it begins March 30th, then when we do start implementing those payments, you will be paid retroactively. So let's say we're able to get payments out the door by the 15th of April, then you would get those two weeks of payments in one lump sum and then you would get an a weekly amount thereafter.

Yepsen:

And is there anything being done to simplify this process? I read in my old paper this morning, this list of things what you would have to do to qualify. And you know, somebody doesn't have to worry about collecting unemployment because if you understand this stuff, you got a job in law for, I mean this is very complicated processes.

Townsend:

It's not actually David, it's not that complicated. So we have put, made and posted on the website videos to show, to walk people screen by screen, how to fill out and complete an unemployment form. Because remember, most of the people who are filing unemployment claims now have never filed them before. So we've done a video for the people who are filing because they work for an employer and had been laid off. And then we've also today posted a video to show individuals who are self-employed because their answers are going to be a little bit different. So we want to show them how to do that. They have the option of uploading a number of different documents to show their wages. It's not, it's not a cumulative list, like you have to file all these documents, but you just have to show one so we can establish what your income is. Because if you're employed and earned W-2 wages, we have access to your wage records. We don't need those documents because we already know what you're making. If you're self-employed, we need some form of documentation to show this is what my income usually is. That be a 2018 tax return. That's the one document that will get you there. It could be your 2019 tax return if you've already filed that. It could be your 2019 1099 form from the IRS showing what you made as an independent contractor or self-employed. So it's not like you have to provide all of the documents. You just need to provide documentation that establishes your income. And because unemployment is based in part on your income, it helps us make sure that you're getting all of the weekly benefit that you're entitled to.

Yepsen:

So that video will help us understand.

Townsend:

I believe it will. Yes.

Yepsen:

Erin?

Murphy:

Dr. Rosa, I wanted to ask you about this. There's modeling out there and projections on the potential impacts of this virus in the coming weeks and months. One of them that's put together by some experts in the field and a lot of people cite is out of Washington University. You sounds like you're familiar with that. So according to that projection and this, these numbers change from day to day, but they project roughly not quite 1,500 deaths in Iowa with the impact reaching all the way to August. Is that a projection modeling we can rely on? I know the Governor expressed some concern that that one might not take into account some of the steps that you've noted earlier. Is that, is that a good projection or do you question those numbers too?

Rosa:

Well, the thing about modeling is that it, at the end of the day they are predictions. And when the scientists that have put together these models, you know, when they decide what to include and how to calibrate the different variables, they have had to make a lot of assumptions. And that means that what they put in there is not exactly hard data. It's, it's of course a very well researched, very well educated assumption. But it looks at a different range of things. And you know, that's why when you see the, you know, the, when you see what their estimates are, they are, you know, an average around 1,400, but then, you know, really could be much more than that. Indeed. When you look at their website they have us in Iowa listed as having no shelter in place of no, no closures of any type. So that may be something that could potentially impact how those numbers come out. But you know, our daycare centers do remain open which might be different than from some other States. And, and indeed, you know, the, there's no shelter in place orders. So they, you know, they also have to take that into account. You know, they are, they are predictions at the end of the day. Yeah.

Murphy:

We have a graphic that we want to show our viewers and ask you about that shows the number of cases in Iowa and in the different areas of the States. I think you mentioned that there's some hotspots. So, so obviously some of that and that's the state is looking at too. Just when you look at that map what does that tell you? What conclusions do you draw --

Rosa:

Well, well actually when I look at the map, what I can tell you is that what we are missing is where we're not able to test more, you know? I actually have no doubt that the virus is spread throughout the state and perhaps that intensity of what we are seeing, the number of cases might just reflect an increased awareness or local modifications to the testing criteria. But you know, I see some blank spots. I don't think there are blank spots. I think it's all across our state.

Murphy:

How much does that lack of testing and there's testing available because of the numbers we kind of have to prioritize, right. Who's getting the test right now? How much does that lack of more testing inhibit this states and federal responses?

Rosa:

Yes. Testing affects every single aspect of what we can do for COVID-19. If we had more tests, you know, through testing you are able to identify and appropriately you know, triage to the necessary level of care. You are able to isolate and perhaps not just say to someone, maybe you have COVID so you should isolate but actually be able to say you have COVID isolate and you're able to trace. So testing is fundamental and right now our testing is really narrowed to try to capture those ones who we really think might have COVID-19 and are at risk for worse outcomes or death. So, you know, yes, our testing situation is much improved than it was a couple of weeks ago, but it is by no means resolved. We need to do more tests.

Yepsen:

Attorney General Miller, one question that comes up right now is about evictions and the Governor has put a hold on them, but that was good till mid-April. What do you say to a tenant or a landlord who is a tenant who is facing evictions? What happens to them? What does the landlord have to do? What, what's the situation?

Miller:

I think that the suspension of evictions would, would run at least till April 30th. I think that the Governor extended her whole set of regulations. So it would be so till the 30th and you know that could be extended.

Yepsen:

Even beyond, even beyond the 30th, it could be extended?

Miller:

It could be extended by the, by the Governor, yes. you know, we don't know how long this, this whole period is going to last or any part of it, so it could be extended. So I think that, I think that that was a very good move on her part to, to suspend the evictions during this period time. And you know, for the tenant you know, I think that it provides some, some safety and security at a point of great insecurity and lack of safety. I think if the tenant can, can pay the rent, the tenant should keep doing that. I think that the landlord should understand the times that we're in. And that that raises a really important point for me. And that is that one of the things we need to do is treat each other well. You know a bit of kindness, a bit of graciousness at this time reaching out and a landlord you know, treating a tenant in a contentious period, in a reasonable way is a really good example of us treating each other the way we should. And I think, I think that whole important element is extremely important.

Yepsen:

Mr. Miller, I want to ask about another subject. What about martial law? Are we headed to a point where the government, the state has to get much more coercive, a much harsher with people where this voluntary approach doesn't work. You hear that word thrown about. What does that word mean to you? Are we headed towards something draconian like that where the police do have to get involved? Talk about that a little bit for me please.

Miller:

As some someone who's a great believer in the rule of law and government functioning the way it should martial law is very foreign to me. It's something that, that I'm opposed to. I don't think it's good. I don't think it's going to happen and shouldn't happen. You know, we, you know, we, we should think of, of South Korea, South Korea has probably done the best job of any country on this. They haven't gone to the, those draconian measures. But I, I'll pick up on one point that Dr. Rosa was making that is about testing. They did a terrific job on testing and they did it early and that made just a huge difference because they were able to find out exactly who had coronavirus isolate that person, chase down the people they were in contact with. And that was a huge, huge factor. So you know, I think I want to sort of double down on the idea that the more testing we do and the more tracing and tracking that we do the better off we have, we're going to be, and we've been, you know, we in Iowa and the whole country just have not been able to do enough testing cause we didn't have the testing kits.

Murphy:

Director Townsend, I had a couple of classifications of workers that I want to ask you about. A couple of them you may have already gotten to, some of them you just touch on that again real quick. Self-employed and gig workers, gig economy workers, Uber drivers, those kinds of folks. They, they have options currently correct?

Townsend:

They qualify for unemployment benefits and we've started taking those claims.

Murphy:

Okay. And how about workers who have lost both their job and their health insurance? What options are available for them?

Townsend:

Well, obviously if they are entitled to or qualified for unemployment benefits, then they can apply for those. With regard to the loss of their health benefits that's not a factor in determining the amount of health or I'm sorry, the amount of unemployment benefits that they're normally entitled to

Murphy:

And is there, do you have -- do you ever get those questions with people? Where do I go for --

Townsend:

We have not received many of those. Fortunately, I think a lot of employers have kept their employees on their health benefits even if they were laid off. So they furloughed them and laid them off, but have taken the responsibility of paying for those health insurance benefits. And I would encourage all employers to, to continue to do that. Also under the Paycheck Protection Act, which bought loans were starting to be made today, provides the employer with money to pay for wages and benefits. So that's also an option to keep people on their health insurance.

Murphy:

And you touched on another one, they're furloughed workers real quick, that people who are off now but have a job hopefully at the end of this. What are the options for them?

Townsend:

Same as for anybody who's been laid off, they're entitled to the unemployment benefits as long as they are furloughed or laid off.

Yepsen:

Dr. Rosa, should we all start wearing a mask?

Rosa:

Well, the CDC has, you know, now issued recommendations for essentially public masking. You know, it is very important when we think about masks that we make a distinction between medical masks and nonmedical masks, the cloth masks, the do it yourself, masks, medical masks, the N95 respirators and surgical mask. We still need to save those ones for healthcare workers. That is because that level of protection is needed when you are performing procedures on infected patients or even when you are performing routine cares that bring you up, very up close to a patient. Now in terms of the role of cloth masks, we think, you know there is some evidence that wearing a mask, appropriate mask wearing can prevent spread of the disease. The virus is spread through droplets and droplets are put out there into the world when you talk, when you cough or when you sneeze. So if you're covering your face and you are either symptomatic or perhaps you know, still too early in the disease to show symptoms but still to be able to spread it, if you're wearing a mask, then that can minimize that burden. Now the next question is do masks help in prevent acquiring that infection? And that is the thing that is not entirely clear. One thing that worries healthcare providers in general is that inappropriate mask use can actually put you at an increased risk of acquiring that infection if the mask is, you know, is not fit enough. If you're actually touching your face, touching your eyes, just like you know, pulling it down. Then actually that can put you at risk of contaminating yourself and then allowing the virus to enter. And then the other thing I just, I really want to emphasize that is that we don't want people to be little lulled into a false sense of security like, oh, I now have my mask and I can go out and mingle with my friends. Using a mask is not a substitute for physical distancing, washing your hands and keeping your surrounding surfaces clean.

Yepsen:

The other question that comes up is immunity. If you've had the virus and recover, do you have immunity?

Rosa:

Well, data coming out of, studies come out coming out of China show that the overwhelming majority of patients or more than 95% of the patients do develop antibodies, so protection against the virus about a couple of weeks after the onset of symptoms. However, we do not know if those antibodies provide full protection, nor do we know for how long do they last in in your body.

Yepsen:

We're going to turn to some questions from our audience and while we're getting shifting gears and Erin's going to get ready with a question here, I'd like to ask Attorney General Miller one last question on this round and that is about scams. What if anything, has your office seen about fraud, hoarding, people scamming? Have we got a problem yet in Iowa?

Miller:

We do have a problem on price gouging, which is related to hoarding. It's a part of hoarding. And indeed we've had well over 200 inquiries to our office and over 50 actual formal complaints. What we're seeing is some, in some places it's in the, the supplies both at, at brick and mortar stores and online. Cleaning solution, sanitizers, disinfectants are being well overpriced. What we've done is whenever we get a complaint and we're being proactive in trying to get all over the Internet to see where there's instances we as quickly as possible have a very, you know, dedicated consumer protection staff pushed back on whoever is doing this. Online we will if there's a chance to comment, we put our opinion up. We issued cease and desist orders. And we work a lot with, with other states and other people in law enforcement. The law enforcement, consumer protection community is, is really a very good community. For instance, we work with, with other states and dealing with Amazon to try and get them to as quickly as possible take off their sites advertisements that would be price gouging. We work with the two U.S. Attorney's offices for more large scale scams beyond price gouging. And, and they, they would be things like claims that they have a vaccination or a treatment or a cure. There is none out there. They're all fraudulent. And also there's a form of what we call phishing that they will contact you and say that they're from the IRS and want to expedite your payment to go through that. And what they, what they're looking for is your, your bank account number, your social security number. And they use that for identity fraud. So there's, there's a fair amount out. We're, we're pushing back and a number of the merchants we're getting some, some cooperation which is important, but, but this, this whole area is, is something that's unfortunately very predictable. Whenever there is a situation like this, the con-artists are topical. Whatever is on people's minds, they gravitate towards and you know, nothing's been on our minds as much as this pandemic.

Yepsen:

Well, we're going to switch gears now and go to the lots of the questions that we're getting from our viewers. Erin?

Murphy:

Yeah, I've got a question. I think, Dr. Rosa, you're best equipped to handle here. It comes from Tricia who submitted her question on Facebook. Her question is why are different counties getting test results back faster? And I may spread that even more for you and, and we hear anecdotal stories about some people having a harder time with tests than others. How long should this be taking? And, and we've got the state hygienic lab doing tests and private companies doing tests too. How long should it take and how uniform is this?

Rosa:

Yeah, so testing is still a patchwork of different pieces. So depending on where a test sample is sent, that is that's why there may be variation. You know, initially when testing was expanded this was done through national reference labs, but you know, we were not the only state sending them tests. It was happening all across the country and so that their turnaround times were between three and seven days. And so some clinics may still be testing through those reference labs. The state hygienic lab is another one and I think their turnaround time might be a little bit faster. We do have in-house testing now at unity, but we are actually processing samples from across all of our state so that, you know, we have to prioritize hospitalized patients. So those samples, you know, then might take between a few hours and up to a day. And if we are running some clinics from across the state, then that may take a little bit over a day. So, because there is no unified place where all of the samples are going to, that's why you see this big range in turnaround times.

Yepsen:

Doctor, real quickly, Ron in Chariton asks if a person with a virus coughs or sneezes into a cold air return, a furnace, could that make it throughout the house?

Rosa:

You know, I am not a structural engineers, so I don't know if I'm the person best equipped to answer the question. I should notice though, you know, that you know, even things like, you know, if you have a large gathering, even the number of air turn turnovers that you have in an hour can potentially impact how many folks get infected.

Yepsen:

We'll have to get a structural engineer. Dr. Townsend, unemployment, this is a viewer, can my employer force me to come back to work in the office? I've been working from home this week due to possible exposure, but they're telling me I have to go back to the office on Monday if there are no symptoms, I'm concerned if I refuse to go back to the office, that I will be fired.

Townsend:

Well, it depends. It depends on how long she's been in isolation and if she has any medical reason to extend that that period of isolation. So she should check with her doctor. It also would then depend on whether she's exhausted her rights under the Family First Act, which was the first piece of federal legislation that deals with individuals who take COVID-19 related absences from work. We do ask them information about that on our website. So I would encourage her to look at the website, but I would also encourage her if she has questions or concerns to send the email to our uiclaimshelp@iwd.iowa.gov. We are answering those over the weekend and we should be able to give her an answer hopefully before Monday morning.

Murphy:

And you know, I have one here and I don't want to stay on it too long cause it sounds similar but I want to ask you in case it sounds similar. This is from Jenny. My husband is a kidney transplant recipient due to his and due to this is immuno-compromised, his workplace has not closed down and currently has no plan to. He works in close proximity to others. So the question is, would he be eligible in front employment if he chose on his own to stay home from work?

Townsend:

I believe as long as he could get a note from his doctor saying that he is in a higher risk category then under the Family First Act he would be able or be eligible for unemployment should he then stay home.

Rosa:

That is a high risk group, you know, most certainly.

Murphy:

Yeah. That's what we always are told, right that the high risk are people with underlying previous health conditions.

Rosa:

And certainly someone who's received a transplant, you know, because of the type of medications that they take. Very high risk.

Yepsen:

Mr. Miller, I have a question for you.

Miller:

Yeah. David, if I could just jump in and say that the employers that are requiring people to come to work, I just would implore them not to do that unless it's absolutely necessary and just impossible to function unless they do. And in terms of that, that one individual that, that is so vulnerable to require that person to come to work just seems wrong, just seems that in this environment with the risks that that he or she would have they just shouldn't do that. I think that's, you know, that's part of what I was talking about before, that we're all in this together and to the extent that we treat each other right, the extent that we reach out with generosity and do things that maybe we don't legally have to do, but it's the right thing to do to go ahead and do. I just would make an appeal to, to both those employers.

Yepsen:

And we have a question here from Rod from Algona. Is there an issue with people crossing the Iowa, Minnesota borders? Should the state be closed to outsiders?

Miller:

There isn't currently an issue or any regulation prohibiting travel between the two states and I don't think that there should be. I just don't see any real necessity at this point. Indeed if you look at positive cases Minnesota is doing better than Iowa. In fact, Minnesota is doing terrific on, on that score that for per capita cases, they must be one of the best, maybe, maybe the best in the country. But in any case you know, this arose in a significant situation in regard to New York and Florida and Rhode Island. And you know, we have to keep in mind that all the States are in this together and to prohibit travel is something that that we just shouldn't do in the current situation.

Yepsen:

And while I've got you General Miller, Steve in Denison, are packing plant's going to be allowed to continue to operate?

Miller:

I think that the packing plants will be whether there's a stay at home order or not, that it's a food production is considered an essential occupation employment and you know, just having made my weekly trip to the grocery store and seeing the food in place and being able to get what I need it's, it's very important that food production continue.

Yepsen:

Erin?

Murphy:

Oh, speaking of the grocery store, Dr. Rosa, Jack from Davenport writes and I asked, is there any suggestions or recommendations for people when they go to the grocery store? Is it safe to do that still right now or would the preferable method be to, for places that do this order and have it delivered or, or picked up curbside?

Rosa:

You know, if you have the ability to get your groceries delivered to your house, to your home, that may be ideal. If you are not able to access this type of service and you have to go out, then it's important that when you are out, you maintain physical distance with other shoppers and the people processing your purchases. It's also important that you know, if you can, you know, avoid touching your face while you're doing your shopping. If you can get, you know, hand sanitizer and try to frequently wash your hands, that might also be a good idea. And I mean hopefully we don't have to talk too much about peak hours because people are staying home. So these places are staying, you know, as empty as possible. But then try to do your shopping at a time where you do not see a lot of other folks doing their shopping as well.

Murphy:

How about picking, I'm sorry, but how about picking up, you know, actual packages, fruits, vegetables, whatever it is? Do people need to be concerned about that?

Rosa:

It's okay to pick up your groceries and what people have to be very mindful of is, you know, maintain washing your hands, you know, at every opportunity that you have, you know, put all of your stuff in your cart and then you load it, you get, you get home, you put it, you know, you get it out, wash your hands, put everything away, store it, wash your hands. That's always the most important part.

Yepsen:

Director Townsend, we've got some more unemployment questions here for you. Marcia in Villisca asks, will a disabled person who does not file for income tax still receive the stimulus money and will she get it at the same time as everyone else?

Townsend:

So in order to qualify for the $600 a month, weekly claim, I believe is what she's talking about, as it stands now, you currently have to be otherwise qualified to receive unemployment benefits. So if she's disabled, she's most likely not receiving unemployment or those types of benefits and would not be eligible. But what I would say to her is stay tuned. The DOL is issuing more guidance in the next week. Y.

Yepsen:

Department of Labor.

Townsend:

Yes. And that might be, that might be a situation that they clarify in the next few days.

Yepsen:

And Luann from Belmond said she's already filed for unemployment, but she didn't upload any documentation. Can she amend it?

Townsend:

Absolutely. You can go back in online anytime and add anything that you need to add or that you've missed. If she's works for an employer, then she wouldn't need to file any more documentation.

Yepsen:

She says she's an independent contractor.

Townsend:

Okay. Then she would need to upload those documents. She just needs to go back in and reopen her claim and then she'll be able to attach those documents to reclaim. And could I just comment on one thing? I do want to remark on that what Tom was talking about, that he hopes that employers are doing the right thing. I believe, Tom, from everything that we've been able to observe that they are, that they are working hard to, to work with their employees and to make sure that they can also not contribute to the stress, but get done what they need to do. We've worked very closely with the Iowa Business Council, with the Iowa Association of Business and Industry. So I know that there are a lot of very caring employers out there.

Yepsen:

Yeah. There just a few bad actors .

Townsend:

And they're there regardless.

Yepsen:

Yeah, that's right. Erin?

Murphy:

A couple more for you real quick, Director Townsend, and this one relates back to something we just, a couple of examples we've discussed earlier. Ramona from Des Moines asks for people who do decide to self-quarantine and maybe apply for unemployment benefits, does their employer have an obligation to keep that job for them and give it back when they're ready to return?

Townsend:

I would say primarily most likely, yes. Excuse me.

Murphy:

And while you take a drink though, I'll get you our next one. Carol in Ames says she works in healthcare full time but also has a part time job as a self-employed massage therapist obviously and she needs that income to help make ends meet with her full time job. Is there, can she get any unemployment benefits for losing that side work even though she is still gainfully full time employed?

Townsend:

It would depend and we will, what we've been telling people is go ahead and file for unemployment because if for instance you are employed but you have lost hours because or your hours have been cut or your wages have been cut related to the virus, go ahead and apply for unemployment. You may be entitled to partial unemployment benefits. So I would encourage her to go ahead and apply and see if she would qualify for some of those partial unemployment benefits. And with regard to your question that I wasn't able to finish I would say that for those individuals who are quarantined or take advantage of the leave that's available under the Family First Act, those jobs would still need to be available because they are technically still employed. They've had to take time off for virus related reasons.

Yepsen:

And Attorney General Miller, I have a question for you. From Renee in Gilman, one of the Iowa PBS guests just said that 80% of the businesses in the state are considered essential. I've heard similar figures. Shouldn't the state take a better look at that to make sure they're truly essential?

Miller:

That's something that, that maybe should be done and can be done. You know, I think that that the governor's office has looked at this pretty carefully and they're the ones that are, that are basically making the rules and occasionally interpreting it. This really is a problem nationwide. You know, in Minnesota it's roughly the same as is in Iowa that there are, there are really pretty broad definitions of what's essential. But you know, there are a lot of things that, that are essential. Like, you know, I talked about food production you know, the financial system to some extent, to a large extent is essential. So I think you raise a pretty fundamental point with, without a really readily clear answer at this point. And I'd say you know, taking a further look at it would make some sense. But you run into some questions of, you know, really restricting the economy when you would eliminate some jobs that on first blush you would think wouldn't be essential.

Yepsen:

Another question is from Glen in Black Hawk County. General Miller, what would it take for Iowa to call back the retired medical professionals and/or put med students into service?

Miller:

That's something that that probably the Governor could do with her authority. You know, Governor Cuomo has done that in New York and you can't call them back in the sense of force them back. He and he and other governors, Governor Newsom as well has appealed to retired medical personnel to come back. And in New York they've had an enormous outpouring of 60,000, 70,000 people coming back. So I, you know, I think that the Governor could make that call. And you know, I just mentioned Governor Cuomo. I followed fairly carefully what he's saying and I think he's done really a great job in a very, very difficult set of circumstances. But the crisis there, the challenge is the number of deaths are just enormous and also his ability to communicate and explain things and to appeal to the better instincts of people have been really remarkable in my opinion.

Yepsen:

Director Townsend?

Townsend:

The Governor has issued an executive order that would allow people who have retired and who, or maybe their licenses recently lapsed to get back into healthcare on a kind of a fast track. So she has issued an executive order, I'm not sure the entire range of health care professionals that applies to, but she has done some taken steps to make sure that we can get those people who want to come back and can come back relatively quickly.

Yepsen:

And Dr. Rosa, haven't community colleges and some nursing programs moved some graduates out a little early?

Rosa:

Also, I mean in the for the medical force or to say, you know, the medical schools have already gone through the match process and that means that medical students who are graduating in June of, in May of this year and slated to start working in July already have a set destination. So that process is through and it's a matter of will they be allowed to do, you know, to start earlier.

Yepsen:

Just a few minutes, Erin.

Murphy:

Dr. Rosa, we talk about people with underlying conditions. Linda from West Des Moines would like to know are people on CPAP machines considered more vulnerable?

Rosa:

Well, you know, if you're wearing a CPAP machine that might indicate that you have some sort, that you potentially have some sort of underlying chronic lung problems and those can certainly put you at risk for worse outcomes if you acquire COVID-19.

Murphy:

Okay. Because we see respiratory issues with the disease itself. Yeah. Another one here for you, Dr. Rosa from Karen from Clive. She says she's over 70, has her own end of life plan. Do patients have a choice if they're diagnosed with the coronavirus, whether to seek treatment? Can they refuse treatment I think is what she's getting at here or is the choice made for them once they're diagnosed?

Rosa:

Okay, so I think a few levels to this question. The first one is a patient will always have a voice and choice over what they want done to themselves. So if it is her choice to not seek medical attention, that will be respected. If it is her choice to seek medical attention, then she will be provided that. The issue of treatment is what's a little bit different. You know, really right now there are no proven effective therapies against COVID-19. Treatment is largely supportive or with essentially experimental treatments.

Yepsen:

Dr. Rosa, is it time we mandate testing for employees at grocery stores, nursing homes, public transportation when they start their shifts. Greg in Panora has that question.

Rosa:

The testing of this, I wonder if he's talking about determining via PCR, which is the type of test that we do to figure out if someone is infected. I don't know that there are the resources to do that, nor that it could be implemented. Perhaps he is potentially getting at whether they should have temperature checks or symptom checks, which is something that has been done in healthcare facilities.

Yepsen:

Erin, I want to ask all three of you before we close for your thoughts about things we may have overlooked, but Erin has one more question.

Murphy:

Real quick and I think I know the answer to this, but it's a question that many people might have. So to hear you answer. Dr. Rosa, Marci from Ankeny wants to know if you've had a vaccine for pneumonia, does that in any way provide any protection towards this virus as well?

Rosa:

Well, the vaccine for pneumonia protects you from the bacteria that most commonly causes pneumonia. It does not protect you directly against COVID-19 because that is caused by a completely different virus. Having said that, occasionally bacterial infections can go on to complicate something that started with a viral infection. So it's still a good idea for you to have your vaccines up to date, including your pneumonia vaccine.

Yepsen:

General Miller, we appreciate your being with us tonight. And I want to give you a few seconds here for your closing thoughts, a lot of questions from us and questions from our viewers. But what do you think is most important for people in Iowa to be, to remember?

Miller:

Remember to be careful, to stay at home, to stay away from people to, you know, to assume that you might have it and to assume that the person, next person you see might have it to, do everything we can to keep this from, from spreading. And secondly, what I've mentioned before is to, is to be kind, to be good to other people. This is a time when kindness goes a long way. One of the things that a lot of people are doing is they're home and they're on their phone talking to their family and to their friends. And keeping connected that way to try and avoid being sort of an unconnected person because physically we're, we're somewhat unconnected.

Yepsen:

Director Townsend, what are your final remarks here?

Townsend:

Sure. What I would like people to know is number one, how much information is available on our website and how hard the people at Iowa Workforce Development are working to help their fellow citizens. I hope that Iowans will show them the grace and the patients when they do get through on the phone because this is a staff that is just so committed. They are working 14 hour days, six, seven days a week, just working very, very hard to provide the kind of grace and kindness that Tom has been talking about. There are also opportunities to work available. There are over 32 employers we have on our website right now who are in desperate need of workers. So there are jobs available and if you are healthy and want to work, that opportunity exists.

Yepsen:

That's good news. Dr. Rosa?

Rosa:

Stay home. That's my message. Stay home.

Murphy:

Simple.

Rosa:

Yes.

Yepsen:

I want to thank all of you for your service, General Miller, Dr. Rosa. Director Townsend. We appreciate your taking time with us tonight, but we appreciate the work that you and so many other people in public service today are doing for all of us. We appreciate that a great deal.

 

Thank you.

Thank you.

Yepsen:

And we'll be back for another expanded live edition of Iowa Press at our regular times next week, live on Friday night at 7:30 with a rebroadcast at 11:30 on Sunday morning. So for all of us here at Iowa PBS, I'm David Yepsen and thanks for joining us today.

 

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If you or someone you know is experiencing stress, fear, or anxiety during this time, resources are available at YourLifeIowa.org. Live chat with an expert, text (855) 895-8398 or call at (855) 581-8111.

 

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