City officials announced this week that the campground in Ottumwa Park will open Saturday as scheduled. We think that’s a mistake.
The campground is a revenue source for the city, and we don’t blame them for wanting it open. But it also draws people in from a wide area. It means tacitly encouraging travel in a time when health officials are discouraging it.
Camping is not like moving to a new apartment or home. The resources available for campers are, inevitably, different. Even if their setup allows for things like refrigerators, they will generally be smaller than what a person has in a permanent residence. That means less ability to store food, and more trips to the store.
The bigger risk would be muddying the message for people to restrict travel, to avoid crowds and to stay at home as much as possible. Heading off to a campground is inevitably in conflict with that message, and by telling people the doors are open, the city would inevitably risk undermining health officials who are giving people the advice they need to stay as safe as is possible.
There are some early, tentative signs people are heeding those messages and that it is making a difference in Iowa. It is far too early to suggest we’ve turned any sort of corner. It is far too soon to say the dramatic rise in diagnosed cases in our state is going to slow. Measures such as social distancing and crowd limitations offer the best chance we have of getting to that point sooner rather than later.
As of Wednesday, the United States was clearly in the early stages of this pandemic. Recoveries in our country are few and far between for now. We will get there. The vast majority will recover. But they have not done so yet.
For the city to go ahead with plans to open the campgrounds would be irresponsible. It would signal that normalcy is returning long before any such thing can reasonably be said. Iowa’s virus curve is still showing rapid growth, and this is no time to abandon the very steps that could keep our hospitals and communities from being overwhelmed in the way others, notably Seattle and New York, have been.
We are not, at this time, prepared to make the accusation that this is an act of greed on the part of the city. Rather, we think this is an act that shows a lack of sufficient reflection and thought. It is a decision that appears to have been made on autopilot at a time when that isn’t sufficient.
We strongly urge the city to reconsider. We urge them to delay the campground’s opening so that people are not needlessly exposed to greater risk than already exists. It is a necessary step both for the good of the people who camp there and for the community as a whole.
The city must show that it is acting responsibly during this time. It must show that it understands the risks of its actions and the risk of inaction on this issue. Making a mistake like this when the information needed to avoid it is so well known, so widespread as to have reached virtually every Iowan, is not acceptable.
They must reverse course on this decision.