Iowa schools closing, lawmakers suspending work at Capitol
By DAVID PITT
DES MOINES — Dozens of Iowa school districts are following the governor’s guidance and suspending classes for four weeks to stem the spread of the new coronavirus.
And after legislative leaders made a similar decision to suspend the legislative session, lawmakers began the process Monday of at least temporarily shutting down their work at the Capitol.
For schools, the rush to cancel classes came after Gov. Kim Reynolds on Sunday recommended such closures for four weeks after she learned of more cases that indicate the coronavirus is spreading in the state.
The Des Moines school district, the state’s largest, was among those cancelling classes. Other districts make similar moves included Cedar Rapids, Davenport, Dubuque and Sioux City,
On Monday, Reynolds announced an additional case of the virus, bringing Iowa’s total to 23.
With a 30-day pause in the legislative session looming, Senate and House leaders worked into Monday evening on a package of legislation to help the state deal with the virus and its impact on workers, businesses and schools.
The leaders agreed to waive the requirement for Iowa schools to reschedule days canceled as part of the package. Any classes previously scheduled from March 16 to April 12 will not be required to be rescheduled.
House Speaker Pat Grassley said he expects lawmakers to return and complete the session after the break and to continue conversations during the recess through telephone or videoconferencing.
“The expectation is that we continue to work through the process. Obviously, we’ve had a scenario thrown at us that we did not expect but we have the capabilities to continue to have some of that work going on within the legislature between the House and the Senate with our own members and with the minority party,” he said.
For most people, the COVID-19 causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness. Most people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.
Reynolds said state agency leaders are working on a plan to provide financial assistance for childcare providers to keep options available for workers with children now at home. A plan to provide meals for school-age children through a drive-up service or grab-and-go is also in the works since many families rely on the schools to provide daytime meals.
Reynolds said Iowa Workforce Development has developed an assistance program for workers laid off due to the virus economic impact or those who must stay home because they’re ill or to care for family members. It pays unemployment benefits within a week by eliminating some traditional reporting requirements.
Claims filed due to COVID-19 will not be charged to employers.
Reynolds also said the state’s testing capacity for the illness will be doubled to 108 tests per day by adding a second shift at a state hygienic laboratory conducting most of Iowa’s tests.
AP staffer Nelson Lampe in Omaha, Nebraska contributed to this story.
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