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COLUMN: Coronavirus impact felt in state government

COLUMN: Coronavirus impact felt in state government

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The novel coronavirus is upending the daily lives of Iowans at every turn.

State government is not immune.

It was a remarkable week in Iowa’s capital city as Gov. Kim Reynolds provided multiple updates on the virus’ spread and state government’s efforts to minimize the impact, and as the Iowa Legislature shut down temporarily as a precaution.

The temporary suspension of the Iowa Legislature was an obvious necessity. In a normal year, the Iowa Capitol becomes a petri dish as colds and flu flow throughout the building, which is packed daily with people cramming into small rooms, greeting each other with handshakes and hugs and working in close proximity to others.

With the coronavirus spreading the way it has, shutting down the Legislature was inevitable.

Still, it made for an interesting day at the Capitol, as lawmakers gathered one last time — for now — to approve some extra funding for virus testing at the state hygienic lab and give some emergency powers to the governor. It felt very much like the end of a legislative session, when leaders are huddled in closed-door meetings to hammer out agreements while the rest of us — rank-and-file lawmakers included — wait.

When the work was finished, there were handshakes and hugs — probably too many, given the exceptional circumstances —as lawmakers prepared to go their separate ways, not knowing exactly when they might return to finish their work for the session.

Reynolds has increased the pace of news conferences in order to provide fresh updates on the virus’ impact on Iowa. As the coronavirus continues to spread, its impact and the state’s response change almost daily.

To pull back the curtain for you, even the governor’s press conferences have become a practice in social distancing. They are being staffed by a limited number of reporters in the room — one each from print, TV and radio media that share the information with other reporters — while other reporters are allowed to call into the press conference and ask questions via a conference line.

It’s a new world we’re all living in. Fortunately for me, as a bureau reporter, I’m accustomed to working on my own, away from other people. To borrow a joke being passed around by social introverts, I’ve been preparing for this moment for years.

I also wanted to take this moment to make a humble plea: If you’re able, and if you’re not already, please subscribe to your local newspaper. The economic impact of this virus could be devastating, and that will impact newspapers. As businesses become forced to make spending decisions, advertising almost certainly will be reduced. That will have a critical impact on newspapers, which already are struggling to earn enough revenue to support staff.

Your local newspapers work hard every day to report the news that matters most to you in your communities. In this exceptional time, that work is even more valuable.

If you can, please support that work. Help us to help you.

Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government for Lee Enterprises. His email address is erin.murphy@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.

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State house reporter for The Courier/Lee Enterprises.

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