While our specific approaches may differ, we have all kept our states “open for business” and delivered food and other goods Americans need during this pandemic. Our collective experience ensures that our contribution toward reopening our nation’s economy is stable, safe and durable. Restarting our economy is not a race to be won but a cooperative effort. Our approach has created a model for success that can be applied throughout the country.
When emergencies hit, our tradition has been to plan and manage in consultation with community partners. Just as our states worked together to power through historic flooding last year, we applied that same will to overcome the threat posed by the coronavirus. In early March, as coronavirus cases hit the coasts and even before New York City had closed its schools, our states were putting plans in place for temporary business closures and virtual learning for K-12 students.
The Plains states have managed this emergency exceptionally well by many measures. Our states have simultaneously ranked low in terms of infection rates and deaths. We protected our health-care systems by allowing retired physicians and nurses to return to practice, and at no point have our hospitals been at risk of being overwhelmed.
There is no universal approach to navigating this pandemic that would work perfectly for every state. By contrast, our states’ experiences offer collective proof that a one-size-fits-all approach is not the best way to address unique circumstances. When shaping our state plans, each of us has relied on our own public health teams, informed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other national experts.
We knew it was critical, even as the coronavirus has spread, that our state economies keep moving. Agriculture, energy and manufacturing are the backbone of the Midwest and Great Plains. Our beef, pork and poultry feed the world. Our oil, ethanol, coal and wind fuel the country’s businesses.
Like other states, we did have to close pieces of our economies temporarily. To meet this challenge, our states moved quickly to cut red tape and allow private employers to pivot to new business models. Successes include restaurants selling food packaged for commercial use and loosened regulations for day care to expand access to child care for our workforces. The relationships our community bankers have built with businesses over the years helped our region lead the nation for the amount of eligible payroll funding enrolled in the Paycheck Protection Program. All of this helped mitigate the job losses that are drowning unemployment benefits systems nationwide.
Private-sector businesses in our states, as elsewhere, stepped up to fill gaps for key products that have been in short supply. Distilleries and ethanol plants teamed up with community partners to produce hand sanitizer. Wyoming and Utah have partnered with industry to manufacture swabs and other supplies necessary for transporting coronavirus tests to laboratories. Missouri has created a marketplace where in-state manufacturers can pair with in-state providers to meet demands for personal protective equipment.
As we move into the next phase of managing the pandemic and consider President Trump’s guidelines for “Opening Up America Again,” we are applying our propensity for planning to reopen the segments of our economies that temporarily closed. Each of us has identified triggers for when regions of our states and sectors of our economies should reopen, based on metrics tailored to our unique circumstances. As we navigate this new phase, we are sharing expertise and best practices on how to safely reopen restaurants, churches, gyms and other businesses while continuing to slow the spread of infection.
Arkansas has announced conditions to restart elective surgeries. Iowa has deployed strike teams to conduct proactive surveillance testing of essential employees in areas where virus activity is high. Nebraska has drawn on its world-renowned infectious disease experts to create safety standards for meat-processing facilities.
We are all using expanded testing, rigorous contact tracing and strong pipelines for PPE to keep people safe in the coming months. Getting this job done the right way will be key to slowing the spread of the coronavirus and protecting our nation’s health-care system in the long run.
The core reasons our states are open for business are the tenacity, grit and heart of our residents. Their clear-eyed, common-sense approach helped keep our states on track and have set us up to come out of this pandemic stronger than ever. We look forward to leading the way.