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June 01, 2020

Veterinary clinics take precautions even without statewide orders

Five states without shelter-in-place orders into May
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In March and April, 42 governors across the U.S. issued shelter-in-place orders, but governors in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Arkansas, and Iowa moved forward without statewide orders. As of press time, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming had shelter-in-place orders in parts of those states.

Despite this, it appears most veterinary practices modified, to various degrees, their operations to limit staff and client exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Veterinarians in Nebraska, Arkansas, and Iowa said they closed their lobbies and were trying to follow social-distancing guidelines.

Dr. Jeremy Young, president of the Nebraska VMA, said veterinarians are trained in epidemiology and how viruses can be introduced so he is not surprised to see them embracing public health guidelines related to stopping the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

“We are a well-trained profession that understands what we are trying to accomplish here,” Dr. Young said.

Map: U.S. states with no shelter order or partial order
Social distancing and shelter-in-place orders are reportedly making a difference in decreasing the spread of the COVID-19 virus. As of press time, 42 governors had ordered residents to stay at home and issued a list of essential business that could remain open, with nearly all states considering veterinary professionals to be essential workers.

Nebraska

Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts said he would not issue a shelter-in-place order for the state, but he prohibited gatherings of more than 10 people and requested that people practice physical distancing. He also banned elective procedures, including those done by veterinarians.

A statewide order may be less necessary in more rural states depending on cases, population density, and culture. Logistically, however, not having an order can make issuing broad guidelines difficult.

In Nebraska, the state was divided into health districts, and each district offered different advice for businesses and residents.

“What’s right for me in my central Nebraska location is not necessarily right for someone in Omaha,” said Dr. Young, who is a partner in the Town and Country Veterinary Clinic, which has locations in Albion, Elgin, and St. Edward. Two of the locations are in one health district, and one is in a separate district.

Dr. Young shifts back and forth on whether he thinks the state should have a statewide order, but he respects Gov. Ricketts’ decision.

“I can appreciate that it would be nice to just make the order and make sure everyone knows what the plan is,” he said. “There are people who feel this isn’t something to worry about, and they’re still living their lives and taking their whole families into Walmart. People are worried about this keeping us safe versus allowing government overreach. It is not just about the spread of COVID-19. There are a lot of things politicizing it.”

Arkansas

Dr. Paul Jenkins, president of the Arkansas VMA and co-owner of the Vilonia Animal Clinic in Conway, Arkansas, said his practice and others in the area are taking steps such as closing lobbies and implementing curbside service.

“We are taking the temperatures of all our employees, including myself, in the morning,” Dr. Jenkins said. “We closed our boarding kennel, and we aren’t doing anything elective.”

Republican Gov. 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 requested residents to perform social distancing.

“Arkansas is doing a good job,” Dr. Jenkins said. “From what I can tell, looking at the numbers from the Department of Health, I think what we are doing is working.”

The state had 3,458 positive cases and 80 deaths as of May 4, according to the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement.

Iowa

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds suggested residents stay home and issued a public health emergency declaration in March. She extended the order in April. The proclamation limits gatherings in certain counties and requires people to practice social distancing, among other things.

Dr. Randy L. Wheeler, executive director of the Iowa VMA, said the association is advocating for animals to receive the care they need but with the pandemic in mind.

“We want to protect our clients, staff, and community from exposure and spread,” Dr. Wheeler said. “The Iowa veterinary profession is still conducting business as usual, but we are acting like we are doing shelter in place.”

The IVMA has provided member veterinarians with guidelines based on AVMA suggestions and resources.

“Overall we are a conscientious group, and we are telling our members to use sound medical judgment,” Dr. Wheeler said.

The association sent a survey to members in April asking about the COVID-19 pandemic and received results suggesting most practices were open but doing curbside service and limiting contact with clients.

“Over 40% of our survey responses were from mixed and food animal veterinarians saying that they are being careful and that they are trying to social-distance and utilize that 6-foot distance,” Dr. Wheeler said.

Iowa had its largest single-day increase in COVID-19 cases on April 19, with state officials saying 261 of the 389 new cases of COVID-19 reported were discovered as part of testing 1,000 meatpacking employees at Tyson Foods Inc. and National Beef Packing Co. The Tyson pork processing plant in Columbus Junction, Iowa, had an outbreak linked to hundreds of infections and the deaths of two workers. It later closed for two weeks. Then Tyson suspended operations April 22 at the pork processing plant in Waterloo, Iowa, after more than 180 infections had been linked to it.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order April 28 to compel meat processing plants to remain open amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Invoking the Defense Production Act, Trump signed the order that declares these plants part of critical infrastructure in the US.

The administration is also working with the Department of Labor on issuing guidance about which employees who work at these meat processing facilities should remain home.

The Dakotas

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, said she would leave it up to individuals to make social-distancing and quarantine-related decisions but urged residents to stay home and groups of 10 or more not to gather.

In early April, the single largest outbreak of COVID-19 in the U.S. was announced at Smithfield Foods Inc. in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, a pork packaging facility. About 350 people tested positive for the virus. The plant accounts for 4% to 5% of all U.S. pork production and closed indefinitely after 783 workers tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 and two died.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, a Republican, ordered bars, restaurants, barbershops, beauty salons, health clubs, movie theaters, and large venues to close.

Gov. Burgum reported frustration as some residents were not taking social distancing seriously but did not order residents to stay home.

The state released an app, Care19, to help public health workers trace COVID-19 within the state.