In March and April, 42 U.S. governors issued protection orders, but governors in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Arkansas, and Iowa went ahead with no statewide orders. At the time of going to press, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming had protective warrants in parts of these states.
Even so, most veterinary practices appear to have modified their operations to varying degrees to limit employee and customer exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
Vets in Nebraska, Arkansas and Iowa said they closed their lobbies and tried to follow socially distant guidelines.
Dr. Jeremy Young, president of the VMA in Nebraska, said veterinarians are trained in epidemiology and virus introduction, and he wasn’t surprised they follow public health guidelines on how to curb the spread of SARS-CoV-2.
“We are a well-trained profession that understands what we want to achieve here,” said Dr. Young.
Social distancing and on-site protection are reportedly helping to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus. At press time, 42 governors had ordered residents to stay at home and issued a list of key businesses that could remain open, with almost all states viewing veterinarians as essential workers.
Republican Governor Pete Ricketts said he would not issue a protection order for the state but banned gatherings of more than 10 people and urged people to distance themselves physically. It also banned electoral procedures, including those conducted by veterinarians.
A nationwide order may be less necessary in rural states, depending on the case, population density and culture. However, logistically, it can be difficult to provide general guidelines when there is no order.
In Nebraska, the state was divided into health districts, and each district offered different advice to businesses and residents.
“What is right for me in my central Nebraska location is not necessarily right for someone in Omaha,” said Dr. Young, partner of the Town and Country Veterinary Clinic with locations in Albion, Elgin, and St. Edward. Two of the locations are in a health district and one in a separate district.
Dr. Young goes back and forth over whether he thinks the state should have a statewide order, but he respects Governor Ricketts’ decision.
“I can understand that it would be nice just to place the order and make sure everyone knows what the plan is,” he said. “There are people who think this is nothing to worry about and they are still living their lives bringing their whole family to Walmart. People are concerned that we are safe instead of the government going too far. It’s not just about the spread of COVID-19. There are many things that politicize it. “
Dr. Paul Jenkins, president of the Arkansas VMA and co-owner of Vilonia Animal Clinic in Conway, Arkansas, said his practice and others in the area are taking steps like closing lobbies and implementing roadside service.
“We take the temperature of all our employees, including myself, in the morning,” said Dr. Jenkins. “We have closed our boarding school and are not taking electives.”
Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson declared a state of emergency on March 11 and declared the state a disaster area on March 26. The governor imposed restrictions on gatherings of more than 10 people and urged residents to practice social distancing.
“Arkansas is doing a good job,” said Dr. Jenkins. “From what I can tell from the Health Department numbers, I think we are working.”
According to the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, the state had 3,458 positive cases and 80 deaths as of May 4.
Republican Governor Kim Reynolds suggested residents stay home and issued a public health emergency statement in March. She extended the order in April. The proclamation restricts gatherings in certain counties and requires, among other things, that people practice social distancing.
Dr. Randy L. Wheeler, executive director of the Iowa VMA, said the association is in favor of giving animals the care they need, but with the pandemic in mind.
“We want to protect our customers, employees and the community from exposure and dissemination,” said Dr. Wheeler. “The Iowa veterinary profession still conducts business as usual, but we act like we’re providing local protection.”
The IVMA has provided the member veterinarians with guidelines based on the suggestions and resources of the AVMA.
“Overall, we are a conscientious group and we encourage our members to use sound medical judgment,” said Dr. Wheeler.
The association sent a survey to members in April asking about the COVID-19 pandemic and received results indicating that most practices were open but roadside service and limited contact with customers.
“Over 40% of our survey responses came from mixed animal and food vets who said they are careful and try to create social distance and use that 6 foot distance,” said Dr. Wheeler.
Iowa saw the largest surge in COVID-19 cases in a day on April 19. According to government officials, 261 of the 389 newly reported COVID-19 cases were discovered during the testing of 1,000 workers in meat packaging at Tyson Foods Inc. and National Beef Packing Co. The Tyson pork processing facility in Columbus Junction, Iowa had an outbreak that has been linked to hundreds of infections and the deaths of two workers. It closed for two weeks later. Then Tyson ceased operations at the pork processing facility in Waterloo, Iowa, on April 22, after more than 180 infections were linked to it.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order on April 28 to force meat processing plants to stay open during the coronavirus pandemic.
Citing the Defense Production Act, Trump signed the order, according to which these plants are part of the critical infrastructure in the USA.
The administration is also working with the Department of Labor to issue guidelines on which employees who work in these meat processing plants should stay at home.
South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, a Republican, said she would leave it up to the individual to make socially distant and quarantine-related decisions, but urged residents to stay home and not to congregate in groups of 10 or more .
In early April, Smithfield Foods Inc. in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, a pork packaging facility, announced the largest COVID-19 outbreak in the United States. About 350 people tested positive for the virus. The facility accounts for 4% to 5% of total U.S. pork production and was closed indefinitely after 783 workers tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 and two died.
North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, a Republican, ordered bars, restaurants, barbershop, beauty salons, health clubs, movie theaters, and major venues to close.
Governor Burgum reported frustration as some residents did not take social distancing seriously but did not order residents to stay home.
The state released an app, Care19, that public health workers can use to track COVID-19 within the state.