CORONAVIRUS

New COVID-19 cases at University of Iowa stay low, even as bars reopen

Weekend draws masking complaints; Bo-James suspended for two days

Patrons line up in front of Summit in Iowa City on the night of Friday, October 9, 2020. (Nick Rohlman/Freelance)
Patrons line up in front of Summit in Iowa City on the night of Friday, October 9, 2020. (Nick Rohlman/Freelance)
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IOWA CITY — Even as police responded to reports of parties and other health emergency violations over the weekend — and as regulators ended a downtown bar’s ability to serve alcohol for two days after accusations of distancing infractions — COVID-19 numbers at the University of Iowa have remained relatively low after spiking to among the worst on campuses nationwide.

The UI on Monday reported 16 new cases among students and employees since Friday, bringing the campus total to 2,116 since Aug. 18.

Iowa State University, which reports new case numbers once a week, added 49 new cases between Oct. 5 and Sunday, bringing its campus total to 1,809 since Aug. 1 — including 175 positives tallied during mandatory move-in testing.

The University of Northern Iowa during the same week identified 11 more cases through on-campus testing. It has counted 165 cases through on-site testing so far this fall, although it doesn’t clearly report positives identified through off-campus testing sources, making a total hard to track.

Those weekly numbers are comparatively low for the UI and ISU campuses, which were tallying new cases in the hundreds earlier in the semester. Gov. Kim Reynolds shuttered bars Aug. 27 in six Iowa counties, including those that are home to UI, ISU and UNI. She reopened all but Johnson and Story counties Sept. 16 and last week allowed those two counties — home to UI and ISU — to get back to business, too.

Over the first weekend with bars operating again, managers in Iowa City seemed to be enforcing distancing and masking rules more strictly than before the closure — creating long lines outside the establishments due to capacity caps inside but also generating police reports.

Patrons at the Iowa City bar scene Friday night, including many UI students, seemed at times frustrated with the lines as they hopped from one to another — sometimes wearing a mask and, in many cases, pulling them off or down under their chins.

Iowa City police took numerous “COVID complaints” in the downtown district, including ones at Martini’s, Pints, Pancheros and The Airliner. Short narratives from Iowa City officers show, for example, reports of people not wearing masks at Martini’s.

“When confronted they get aggressive with staff,” according to the officer’s report.

Complaints on Saturday at Pints and Pancheros included mask and social distancing violations. A report regarding The Airliner on Saturday noted, “All the bars on Clinton Street have long lines and nobody is wearing masks.”

Iowa City bars and other businesses faced backlash from the state and UI President Bruce Harreld earlier this semester when students were seen crammed shoulder to shoulder without masks in their establishments — just as COVID-19 cases were soaring in the city.

Bo-James, a longtime staple near the UI campus, is among several Iowa’s Alcoholic Beverages Division cited for violating the governor’s emergency bar closure order that also banned restaurants from selling alcohol after 10 p.m.

The Bo-James complaint reported the restaurant-bar failed to ensure 6 feet of distance between groups or individuals; to make sure customers who ordered alcohol also got food; and to ensure patrons were seated at a table, booth or bar while drinking or eating. In a settlement agreement made public Tuesday, Bo-James received a two-day suspension from selling or serving alcohol — from 6 a.m. Oct. 25 to 6 a.m. Oct. 27. Since that lands on a Sunday and Monday, Bo-James won’t miss being open for any prime weekend nights or the first Hawkeye football game — which is out of town against Purdue at 2:30 p.m. Oct. 24 but which could attract patrons watching it on TV.

According to the settlement, Bo-James did not admit wrongdoing.

“The licensee specifically denies violating social-distancing rules and regulations,” according to the agreement.

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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