COVID-19 Update: Temporary assignment, reopening offices

April 29, 2020

April 29, 2020, 9:37 a.m. -- message to staff, faculty, and councils

On Tuesday President Wintersteen announced an Executive Committee for Fall Planning, which will be creating plans for safely reinstating our teaching and research programs on campus this fall. President Wintersteen has asked me to serve as chair.

This assignment is temporary – until the students return – but it will require most of my time for the next several months. I have asked Dr. Debra Sellers, director of Human Sciences Extension and Outreach and associate dean in the College of Human Sciences, to lead ISU Extension and Outreach in my absence. Effective immediately, Deb will lead the day-to-day management of ISU Extension and Outreach. Deb will work closely with Chad Higgins, senior director, on decisions and implementation. I will continue to be responsible for decisions regarding budget planning and Structured for Success. Andrea Nelson, assistant vice president for County Services, will lead Structured for Success implementation, which will continue as planned.

Deb also will oversee our COVID-19 Recovery Task Force, as well as a new, virtual lessons learned task force; both will continue as planned. (Check the new COVID-19 Recovery Task Force webpage for the list of task force members and their charge.)

When my role on the Executive Committee for Fall Planning is completed, I will return fulltime to my duties as vice president for extension and outreach. COVID-19 has required all of us to step up in ways we may not have considered before. Thank you for your continuing efforts to educate and engage Iowans as we look forward to helping our state reopen and recover.

Guidance for reopening ISU Extension and Outreach county offices

Governor Reynolds announced plans to begin a phased reopening May 1 in 77 Iowa counties. The proclamation is very specific about the types of businesses that may reopen and the need for following appropriate public health precautions. The focus is on a partial reopening of restaurants, fitness facilities, retail outlets, and other businesses where people gather.

The Governor’s proclamation was not a mandate to reopen, but rather an opportunity to do so when all the restrictions and public health precautions are met. Iowa State is not planning any changes to current guidance on working remotely until at least May 15, and the university’s prohibition on all events and meetings through May 31 is still in place.

I recommend that county extension councils and staff take a similar approach. Let’s use the next two weeks for all 100 extension districts to develop a plan and secure the necessary supplies (hand sanitizer, disinfectant), signage, and other necessary steps to have a safe and successful opening. This approach will also allow staff with children at home time to arrange for childcare if they and their supervisor agree they should return to the office. It will also allow us to study how the reopening is progressing and whether Iowa’s number of new COVID-19 cases is declining.

As you consider a plan for returning to work or reopening an office to the public, you must follow Iowa Department of Public Health COVID-19 Reopening Guidance to protect the health and safety of staff, volunteers, participants, and communities. I encourage keeping a log of who visited your office or attended a meeting in case contact tracing is required. Also, note in the Governor’s proclamation that:

  • It is still recommended that all vulnerable Iowans, including those with preexisting medical conditions and those older than 65, in all counties of the state continue to limit their activities outside of their home.
  • Gatherings and events of more than 10 people shall continue to be prohibited at all locations and venues through May 15.

As you develop a plan for returning to work, please remember that our highest priority is the health and safety of staff, volunteers, participants, and communities. Be particularly sensitive to those in higher risk categories. What benefits are gained by opening the office to the public compared to what they receive now and the potential risk of spreading COVID-19? Staff working remotely or rotating shifts in a closed office may continue to be the best option for some. Also, recognize that staff with kids at home may have limited childcare options available.

While the closing of schools and businesses and putting additional restrictions in place occurred quickly, loosening restrictions and reopening the state will occur more slowly. We should also be patient and prepare before reopening 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 distancing, handwashing, and mask wearing will be common in the future. Let’s develop a plan to do these practices well today.

Smart Choice Basics: Health insurance literacy

Human sciences specialists in family finance are offering Smart Choice Basics, a health insurance literacy program, on Thursday, May 7 at 9 a.m. The one-hour, online program is intended for county staff who are currently considering their benefits options and need to decide by May 29. Registration is required. To register, go to The program link is For more information, contact Barb Wollan (, Brenda Schmitt (, or Joyce Lash (

John D. Lawrence
Vice President for Extension and Outreach