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Senator, mayor talk COVID-19

Ernst makes official visit to Estherville

July 13, 2020
By Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer , Estherville News

Senator Joni Ernst visited Estherville Mayor Joseph May Thursday morning to discuss the effects of COVID-19 on the area.

Ernst was the first Iowa woman elected to the U.S. Senate in 2014 and faces Theresa Greenfield in November's election. However, unlike her trip to Dickinson County Thursday, this official visit was Ernst's opportunity to meet the mayor, and their conversation moved from COVID-19 to race, economics, and opportunity.

May said, "We still have low numbers because of the effort we made. We go on social media, on local radio and the local newspaper to talk about just being safe. It's not that this is new information; this is actually old information and a helpful reminder."

Article Photos

Estherville Mayor Joseph May and Senator Joni Ernst conversed in the city council chambers on Thursday.

May added that Estherville's higher age bracket presents a larger concern. May said he told younger residents, "You may not feel any symptoms, but you're doing this for your grandmother. You're doing this for the greatest generation because they have it harder," when it comes to fighting the effects of the coronavirus.

Ernst said disseminating factual information is important.

Ernst's experience was that of mass hysteria in the beginning of the virus reaching Iowa.

"I was on a phone call with a lady and she was out of control. 'People are dying. We're all going to die from this virus,' she said."

Ernst said working through the initial hysteria, she was able to be part of getting the word out that taking precautions will help everyone flatten the curve.

"I'm doing my darndest any time I'm out," Ernst said.

Ernst asked May about the impact of COVID-19 on the city of Estherville and what the city had seen as far as its daily operations and loss of revenue.

"[Other cities] don't have a buffer in their reserves that allows them to be okay in the face of this," Ernst said.

City administrator Penny Clayton said Estherville had not seen a reduction in tax collections.

"We will find out about Local Option Sales & Service Tax on Aug. 15," Clayton said.

The city is also stable with road use tax to fund street projects, Clayton said. The city has been working on a curb and gutter project near downtown Estherville over the past week.

Clayton said two things that helped to sustain local businesses was curbside shopping and takeout Tuesdays, promotions that brought people safely out to support small businesses.

"People were making more of an effort than usual," Clayton said.

Ernst said in other communities, local currencies like Chamber Bucks have helped as consumers purchase certificates for use at a later time.

"It's not like normal, but it is helpful," Ernst said.

May said, "Penny [Clayton] and the Chamber have done a wonderful job constantly encouraging that. It was very helpful."

Ernst announced the U.S. Senate is working on a fourth package under the CARES Act for recovery.

"We have submitted our priorities; we have not seen how that will look yet. I'm not hearing broadly that this will be necessary, but there are some communities who have reached out. Revenues already allocated to governors remain unused because they are limited in how they can distribute the money," Ernst said.

Ernst asked if Estherville had been able to access personal protective equipment (PPE) and if residents had access to testing if needed.

May, who is also Director of Missions at Avera Holy Family Hospital, said, "We always encourage people to call first. Even if we had testing around the clock, it wouldn't have been enough. We weren't just testing for COVID-19, we are assuaging their fearsI think we've done well with what we have."

Ernst said she had driven by the Storm Lake test center and visited with her team.

"It was good for me to see first hand how the operation flows, including how you determine who can get a test. It was fascinating to me to see how well it was working, for people to scan the QR code on their phones and the national guardsmen now working to scan it. We have heard from other communities that if they had the rapid testing, it would be better for them. Here, you'll still have to wait."

May said he and the city had worked to communicate, "be patient," that this situation is a process and mistakes will be made, and information current at the moment could change in minutes.

"We're so used to instant results. I think we have become used to that, and now when you have to wait four hours or a day or more, it's difficult. We can't put something in, spin it, and in the next hour go solve the crime the way it's shown on TV," May said.

Ernst and May agreed that development of a vaccine is key to moving conditions close to normal, or a new normal.

"We hope to get a lot of people vaccinated quickly, but then it's our task to educate the public that we still need to be cautious," Ernst said.

In Thursday's edition of the Estherville News, we will have more on Mayor May and Senator Ernst's conversation about justice, race, and community.



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