COVID-19 Update: Open for Iowa

May 15, 2020

Message from Debra Sellers, on behalf of the Office of the Vice President, to staff, faculty, and councils

Effective today, by Governor Reynolds’ proclamation, additional businesses and establishments throughout the state are permitted to reopen. The Governor’s proclamation was not a mandate, but rather an opportunity to reopen when all restrictions and public health precautions can be met. Gatherings and events of more than 10 people continue to be prohibited through May 27.

Iowa State University’s prohibition on all events and meetings through May 31 is still in place. Only a limited number of ISU employees who have been working remotely will return to campus when the first phase of Iowa State’s reopening begins June 1. (See President Wintersteen’s May 15 message.) Additional information will be forthcoming.

Our Open for Iowa Committee has met frequently over the past week, and will continue to meet regularly to plan for ISU Extension and Outreach’s reopening. The committee members have been assessing guidance from many sources and applying it to our system. Check their Back to Work Guidance page in MyExtension often. The committee will continue to update this page. I am sharing the following message from the committee.

As ISU Extension and Outreach plans for reopening to the public, we must first plan for protecting the health and safety of staff, volunteers, participants, and communities. It is everyone’s responsibility to self-monitor and stay home when ill. Before any extension office reopens, whether in a county or on campus, that office should have a plan in place, share the plan with staff, and train staff appropriately. Keep the following points in mind as you plan for reopening.

  • Review this decision tree from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to protect vulnerable workers and meet local needs and circumstances.
  • Consider whether coming to the office is essential, particularly for staff who have concerns such as child care, are in high risk categories, have a family member in a high-risk category, etc. Staff working remotely or rotating shifts in a closed or open office may be the best option for some. The Iowa Extension Council Association provides employer and staff resources and a personnel policy recommendation from Whitfield & Eddy for the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
  • If staff members have not been to the office since mid-March, we encourage a good office cleaning before reopening. In particular, run the water to flush out the lines and check the thermostats and humidity.
  • Make sure you have the necessary supplies (hand sanitizer, disinfectant, masks), signage, and other necessary steps to have a safe office. Advancement has new signage, floor decals, and other branded materials available on MyExtension for your use as you prepare to reopen. Let Advancement know if there are other items you would recommend.
  • If you are dealing with time sensitive tasks, such as entries for fair, then plan how to handle these tasks in a safe way, which may be different from daily operations of the office.
  • As you consider how much to reopen your office to the public, ask yourself these questions: Do you have room to stage people at the proper 6-foot physical distance if you are expecting more than 10 people? Do you need to require anyone coming into your office to do so by appointment only? Do you need to put a sign on your door to wait in your car until someone leaves? If you anticipate many visitors, for example regarding fair entries, do you have a plan such as using a separate door to the conference room where there is more space or have people answering questions spread out at tables? Do you need a drop-off table and person in a separate entry with the door propped open (so no one must touch door handles)?
  • Keep a log of who visits your office or attends a meeting in case contact tracing is required.

The Open for Iowa Committee plans to communicate with you often to assist your decision-making. I fully support the guidance they have created for our system. In addition, before opening your office to the public, conduct an inspection. I encourage the council chair or personnel committee chair to meet with the staff lead and walk through the office to inspect the changes made to reduce the risk to staff, volunteers, and the community. Please do not feel rushed to fully reopen. As the Governor and President Wintersteen have stated, we need to reopen slowly to incorporate the new changes. We must be patient and prepared before we reopen ISU Extension and Outreach to more face-to-face interaction. It will take time before our staff and our stakeholders feel confident returning to their previous practices, and some practices may be permanently altered. Taking sick days, social/physical distancing, handwashing, and mask wearing will be part of our new normal.

Extension staff have proven highly adaptable and productive during this challenging time, and I commend you for everything you have accomplished. If you have questions or concerns as we move forward with reopening, please contact the Open for Iowa Committee or use the virtual suggestion box.

Debra M. Sellers
Associate Dean, College of Human Sciences
Director, Human Sciences Extension and Outreach