How Do You Reopen a State That Never Closed?

Iowa has the fastest-growing number of Covid-19 cases in the country. But Gov. Kim Reynolds is loosening restrictions.

Lyz Lenz
GEN
Published in
8 min readApr 28, 2020

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Photo illustration. Source: ClassicStock/Getty Images

On March 11, the day the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus a global pandemic, Iowa seemed to think it was unassailable. News stories had filtered into the state. We had our first confirmed case on March 8, but the virus itself felt distant. We had a shitshow of a caucus only a month before, and Super Tuesday was still a recent memory. The thing about living in the middle of the country is that so many things pass over you: Trendy apps don’t make it out until years later; Broadway shows skip us on tour; bands only come to town when they are still scrambling for relevance. Once the political candidates clear out, we go back to being confused with Idaho and Ohio. After all, we had only 54 cases of West Nile, so maybe we’d be okay.

At that moment, the virus felt like an abstraction, even though it was already here. By mid-March, Linn County, where I live, would become the county with the most confirmed cases of the virus in Iowa. Then it was quickly outpaced by Polk and Black Hawk counties because of outbreaks at senior care centers and food processing plants. The state’s most vulnerable, numbers on a chart. Growing until now, when Iowa is the state with the fastest-growing number of cases of Covid-19.

But on March 11, the whole state had 14 confirmed cases, all tied to an Egyptian cruise along the Nile sponsored by a local bank. Our local leaders didn’t seem too worried. One county supervisor was on the road with the Bernie Sanders campaign; another left that day for a vacation with his family to New Zealand. Life in Iowa in mid-March felt like watching your toddler walk along the edge of the water. Maybe he’d fall and be okay, maybe he wouldn’t be okay, or maybe he wouldn’t fall.

That morning of March 11, I emailed my co-workers at the Cedar Rapids Gazette suggesting we cancel an event we were…

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Lyz Lenz
GEN
Writer for

Author of God Land. Columnist for the Cedar Rapids Gazette. The book Belabored is forthcoming from Bold Type Books in August of 2020.