ATLANTIC — When it comes to dealing with changes — like working from home, self-quarantining and not gathering in groups — Atlantic Police Chief Dave Erickson said it all boiled down to this: “Just be patient and use common sense,” but if you break the rules, you could go to jail.
“Things are going to be fine,” Erickson said, adding people should avoid getting into a panic.
He compared the recommendations to self-isolate, maintain social distancing and refrain from gathering in groups of 10 or more, to something Iowans are more familiar with: snow storms.
Typically, when snow storms are forecast, it’s common to find grocery stores running short on staples like milk, bread and eggs. This time, however, shoppers are buying up more than just food items. Toilet paper, hand sanitizer and anti-bacterial wipes are also selling out around the state and country.
Erickson said the restrictions were good, “What they are doing here is good, keeping kids out of schools, (keeping people home from) work, to keep the numbers down,” he said, adding, “If people would just be patient, it’s like a big winter storm.”
Maintaining a distance from other people when you had to be out, and avoiding those who are sick, coughing or sneezing, is important, he said, along with hand washing. “Soap and water kills it,” he said. “If someone coughs or sneezes on your shirt, go home, take it off and wash it in the washing machine, take a shower.”
“The main thing for the public is, just use common sense,” he said.
For those who won’t follow the rules, Erickson said police can enforce the rules.
Breaking the rules — for example holding a gathering of more than 10 people — is a simple misdemeanor and you can be ticketed or arrested.
In Iowa, a simple misdemeanor is punishable by up to 30 days in jail, a fine of $65 to $625, or both.
For some it might be hard to go without that stop at the local bar, or dinner at a favorite restaurant.
“If you think you need a drink, it’s cheaper for your pocketbook — and there are less concerns about drunk driving,” he said, if you go and buy your alcohol and bring it home to drink. “If you need to sit and visit, invite a friend over,” he said, “but keep it simple.”
“You could end up getting arrested and spending time in jail in quarantine,” he said. But that also brings up another concern: bringing coronavirus into the jail. “We as tax payers pay (inmates) medical bills. When they are incarcerated, we foot the bill,” he explained, so bringing in someone who was infected could raise costs for county residents.
COVID-19 concerns have resulted in changes for restaurants and bars, but also area businesses, and customers may find themselves doing business over the phone or internet instead of face-to-face.
“For the Police Department,” Erickson said, “We’re not closing, we’re just not allowing people to come in the front door and right into the police department.” Walk ins could still go to the window at the police department, but other parts of city hall would be closed.
“We’ve cancelled everyone who wanted to do a ride-along,” he said, “even the reserve unit, we sent out a notice that’s been suspended.” He said reserves all had other jobs in other places. “Unless it’s a dire emergency and we need the people, just stay home and be with your families.”
When it came to responding to calls, he said officers were told not to go into homes, and fire department responders were not going to go out on medical calls to avoid unneeded exposure to the virus.
Overall, though, Erickson said, “I don’t have any concerns, Atlantic is a great town, business owners are awesome, the public is awesome. If everyone just does what we are supposed to do, we will be fine.”
Governor Kim Reynolds enacted a state-wide public health emergency on Tuesday, setting in place a number of restrictions ranging from closing restaurants, except for carry out or delivery, to closing bars, fitness centers, health clubs, spas, gyms and aquatic centers, casinos and gaming facilities, senior citizen centers and adult daycare facilities.
The mandates also restrict gatherings and events including groups of more than 10 people, including activities like parades, festivals, conventions, fund-raisers, meetings, church services and more.
The restrictions went into place on March 17 and last until 11:59 p.m. on March 31.