State medical director, economic development chief discuss corona virus

DES MOINES — The state’s top economic development officer says the coronavirus outbreak could have a negative impact on the economy, but Iowa Economic Development Authority director Debi Durham says the state’s biotech firms could play a role in coming up with a vaccine for Covid-19 or expanding the U.S. pharmaceutical industry.

“A lot of supply chain on drugs and nutraceuticals is actually coming from China,” Durham told statehouse reporters Wednesday. “And this is an exact reason why this needs to be brought back.”

The state-supported universities are asking lawmakers to approve spending $4 million to set up “bio-economy platforms” that include vaccines and drugs to treat cancer.

“I’m supportive of research that has a line of sight to the marketplace, right, and playing to our strength,” Durham said. “…We should own it.”

The state’s economy in 2019 was unsettled by trade disputes, according to Durham, but she said big projects began popping in early 2020.

“Our pipeline for new projects is as robust as I’ve seen in a very long time,” Durham said. “But, then what happened Monday with the (New York) Stock Exchange? Is this a black swan? I don’t know. I can’t predict that, but I’m telling you that this is concerning.”

But Durham isn’t yet subscribing to “black swan” theory — that the surprise outbreak of the coronavirus will ultimately have a worldwide economic effect.

The state medical director told members of a Senate committee yesterday there are no cases of the latest strain of the coronavirus — called covid-19 in Iowa and the risk remains low here and throughout the United States. Dr. Caitlin Pedati offered tips for avoiding Covid-19, including covering your mouth when you cough — and 30-seconds later a senator at the table coughed.

“Very nice covering up the cough,” Pedati quipped. “…It was a very nice example.”

Pedati also stressed the importance of staying home when you’re sick and washing your hands with soap and water. One senator suggested putting alcohol-based hand sanitizers near the staircases in the state capitol, for the thousands of people who use the wooden banisters to deal with the steep grade of the stairs in the building.

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