DES MOINES — The ripple of cancellations due to the COVID-19 outbreak is creating significant disruptions for state agencies.
Iowa’s supreme court issued an unusual weekend order that slammed the brakes on the judicial system in Iowa. The court ordered the immediate postponement of all criminal jury trials that do not already have a sworn jury. Trials will not resume before April 20.
Trials that have begun already with a jury in place are not postponed. Non-jury trials may go ahead as scheduled.
Similar delays were ordered for civil jury trials. All cases scheduled to begin before May 4 “shall be continued to a date to be determined at a future time.”
All grand jury proceedings “shall be suspended until April 20.”
Iowa’s appellate courts will not hear oral arguments in cases through May 15.
That wasn’t the only state agency to make a major change. Iowa Department of Corrections has announced visitations are canceled at all state prisons “effective immediately.”
The decision was made as concerns rose about the potential for the virus to spread behind bars, where the options for moving inmates are limited. The Iowa DOC also suspended all volunteer activities “until further notice,” and said volunteers will be contacted by email when the department allows activities to resume.
Iowa legislators are pausing the legislative session for at least 30 days. Colin Tadlock, the spokesman for House Republicans, said in a statement the leaders made the decision after consulting with the Iowa Department of Public Health and Gov. Kim Reynolds. The move was based on recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention related to mass gatherings to protect vulnerable populations.
Iowa had COVID-19 cases before the weekend, but new diagnoses changed things significantly when the first cases of community spread were identified. Previous cases were linked to overseas travel or contact with people known to have had the virus.
The weekend cases lacked those key elements, showing the virus was spreading through Iowa.
Most people experience mild to moderate symptoms when infected with the virus. Fever and coughs are signs, and most will not need treatment beyond that needed for more routine illnesses. Those people should recover in a week or two, according to the World Health Organization.
But for some, especially those with underlying health problems, the virus can be much more serious. In those cases, patients may need to be hospitalized for complications that can include pneumonia.
More than 3,800 cases have been reported in the United States, leading to 68 deaths.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.