There are some critical points that people need to understand about the next couple of weeks and the way Iowa is beginning the process of allowing businesses to reopen. One of the biggest is that we should be careful drawing conclusions immediately.

Tests that confirm a person has COVID-19 are, almost by definition, a trailing indicator in this pandemic. The speed with which it spreads and the latency period during which it can spread before a person shows symptoms mean that we’re well behind in our understanding of how widespread the virus is. By the time people test positive, the virus has likely spread well beyond those numbers.

Neither a jump in numbers in the next week nor a decline will be able to render a verdict on whether the state’s moves were premature. We won’t know that for another 10-14 days in all likelihood.

That may not be a comfortable answer to the questions people have, but it’s an honest one.

Reopening Iowa’s restaurants, stores and religious facilities is a gamble. There’s no other way to put it. In allowing those steps to be taken, Gov. Kim Reynolds has bet that the move will not result in a large increase in the pandemic’s severity.

Keeping things closed would also have been a gamble, albeit with different stakes. The longer businesses are disrupted, the greater the chance they will not survive.

Iowa is just beginning to get a picture of how widespread the virus is in our state. Increasing testing, as officials have pointed out, will inevitably mean more cases are found. It’s not as if those people did not have the virus until the test was done, and it’s not as if ignoring the very real need for testing will make this go away.

So we know there will be more cases over the next couple weeks. That fact alone will not tell us whether this gamble was successful. The rate of increase will be more important, and even it may be unreliable at first.

We hope Reynolds’ bet pays off for Iowa. We also know there are no guarantees. That brings us back to something that has been true since this began.

The decisions people make as individuals will have a major effect on how things play out. If people limit their exposure to others, if they make carefully-considered choices and weigh the risks, they stand a better chance of staying healthy.

For some, that will mean being comfortable eating in a restaurant’s dining room. For others, it will mean continuing with delivery or curbside pickup. Calling one the right decision 100 percent of the time for every single person isn’t something we’re inclined to do.

You’re still in charge of whether you decide to take advantage of the relaxed restrictions in Wapello County. No one is going to come to your home and force you to go dining or shopping. The difference today is that you have more options should you choose to use them.

Be patient with yourselves and others. This is new to all of us. It will take time to adjust, and we may well have to make further adjustments as the situation evolves. This is not, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, the end of the pandemic. It is not the beginning of the end.

But, if we are fortunate, this may be the end of the beginning.

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