Coronavirus/COVID-19 Response

Open for Iowa Update

The Open for Iowa committee provided an update on their work during Second Monday Live on June 8 ( Committee members shared information about:

  • The purpose and goals of the committee.
  • Resources and supplies available online from the Open for Iowa webpage, MyExtension, and the Extension Store.
  • Guidance related to many COVID-19 related issues, such as returning to the office, wearing face coverings, and convening large events.

We encourage county offices and councils to check the Open for Iowa webpage frequently for updates. The content on this page will be updated as new information is released. If you have a specific question, please email a committee member or use the Virtual Suggestion Box.

COVID-19 Update: Open for Iowa

Message from Debra Sellers, on behalf of the Office of the Vice President

May 26, 2020

Tuesday Update for Extension and Outreach

Today President Wintersteen shared a recording of a virtual meeting held with 200 administrative officers to discuss increasing campus operations this summer in preparation for the fall semester. As activity gradually increases on campus, we all share in the responsibility to create a safe and healthy environment. You can read President Wintersteen’s full message here.

As our state continues to gradually reopen and our university plans for phased reopening this summer, the cancellation of ISU Extension and Outreach in-person events and activities ends on May 31. Our Open for Iowa Committee notes that the May 31 date is not a mandate to begin in-person programming. Rather it is an invitation to consider in-person programming while still observing state limits on numbers of people in gatherings, adhering to public health guidance, etc. Virtual education should continue when possible. The committee recommends taking a slow approach, practicing protocols, and having a plan in place prior to resuming in-person education.

The following update is from the Open for Iowa Committee.

  • The university is planning for a phased reopening, but our county offices are further “down the road” to being prepared for reopening to the public than many campus offices. However, the university has valuable guidance that we can adapt to the unique needs of county offices.
  • The Open for Iowa Committee will use Iowa State’s “Guide for Returning to the Workplace” as our foundational document. We will review the recommendations and determine what applies for ISU Extension and Outreach. Over the coming weeks, we will share the appropriate guidance with you. (The guide, supervisor expectations, and a workspace plan are available from Iowa State’s Summer Planning website.)
  • We have created a public Open for Iowa website so that council members may easily access the committee’s guidance.
  • Advancement has created signage and other resources for reopening offices, including a contact tracing form, for county use. The materials are posted on MyExtension now and are linked from the Open for Iowa site as well.
  • We will send a survey to office points of contact to gather information about their needs. Initially we are focusing on supplies, such as face coverings, cleaning supplies, and signage.

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

COVID-19 Update: Temporary assignment, reopening offices

April 29, 2020 message from John Lawrence, Vice President for Extension and Outreach

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.


Message from John Lawrence regarding Counties in Level 10 RMCC Regions

April 16, 2020, 2:10 p.m.

COVID-19 Update for Extension and Outreach

From the Office of the Governor:

Today, Gov. Reynolds signed a new proclamation continuing the State Public Health Emergency Declaration and implementing additional measures to protect residents, workers, and the public in RMCC Region 6.

The proclamation limits social, community, recreational, leisure, and sporting gatherings in RMCC Region 6 to only people who live together in the same household. And it continues to limit weddings, funerals, and other spiritual or religious gatherings to no more than 10 people. The proclamation also requires people to remain six feet away from people outside their household whenever possible and requires employers to take reasonable steps to increase telework and adopt reasonable precautions to protect the health of employees and the public at any in-person operations. 

RMCC Region 6 includes Allamakee, Benton, Black Hawk, Bremer, Buchanan, Clayton, Delaware, Dubuque, Fayette, Grundy, Howard, Jones, Linn, and Winneshiek counties.

The order is effective at 11:59 p.m. on April 16, 2020, and continuing until 11:59 p.m. on April 30, 2020. You can read the full text of the proclamation online.

What does this mean for Extension and Outreach?

While this announcement impacts specific counties in Northeast Iowa today, other regions of the state may reach the level 10 threshold in the coming days. (You can view the regional map on the Iowa Department of Public Health website. Go to the “COVID-19 in Iowa Dashboard” and click through the navigation bar to get to “regional assessment.”)

When your region reaches the threshold, be prepared to comply. ISU Extension and Outreach is already doing many of the restrictions identified in the announcement. We already have canceled meetings and have closed offices to the public, and we are practicing social distancing. However, this calls for additional precautions.

  • If it is possible to work from home, do.
  • If staff are working at the office, restrict it to one person at a time.
  • If you visit the office, use increased cleaning and hygiene practices.
  • If you have a fever, do not go to the office.

Continue to monitor the Iowa Department of Public Health website for additional announcements and information to protect the health and safety of you and your family, our volunteers and participants, and our communities. Iowa will reopen and we will be there – ready to help Iowans recover.

John D. Lawrence

Vice President for Extension and Outreach

Extension Council Town Hall Meeting about Coronavirus/COVID-19  

Recording from March 28, 2020

  • Update about the ISU Extension and Outreach response to COVID-19,
  • Strategies for keeping staff, volunteers, participants and communities safe and for staff working remotely and closing offices to the public,
  • Plans for Structured for Success implementation and next steps for the MOU

Speakers at the Town Hall 

  • John Lawrence, Vice President for Extension and Outreach
  • Andrea Nelson, Assistant Vice President for County Services
  • Terry Maloy, Executive Director, Iowa Extension Council Association
  • Kay Osvig, Whitfield & Eddy Law

Message from Terry Maloy Regarding Coronavirus/COVID-19, March 26, 2020

We are in an unprecedented era of needing to prioritize the health and wellbeing of our community, clients, staff, and their families, while also ensuring that critical business is carried out. Although federal and state proclamations, guidance and even legislation is changing rapidly, hopefully this will serve as a guide as your council makes decisions.

Iowa State University faculty and staff have been directed to begin working remotely as soon as possible, and we encourage county staff and councils to develop a strategy to maximizing social distancing – a CDC mitigation strategy to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 cases. We also recognize that some tasks are critical to our function and need to continue.

Councils may need to begin considering how work may change depending on how long we need to work remotely. The Governor has ordered restaurants and bars closed until March 31, and recommended that schools closed until April 13. Many higher ed programs will finish the semester online.  ISU is evaluating its plans beyond April 4th and should have an announcement by early next week.

We have compiled some information (see links in sidebar) to help you navigate your various responsibilities through these next weeks. We will continue to update these pages with information as we receive it.

As always, please contact IECA Executive Director Terry Maloy (641-226-1541) if IECA can be of assistance.