IOWA CITY — As new cases of COVID-19 at Iowa’s public universities remained low, Gov. Kim Reynolds declared Friday that bars in the campus communities of Johnson and Story counties could reopen next week and that wineries, breweries and distilleries in those counties could reopen immediately.
While Iowa has reported more than 1,000 new COVID-19 cases statewide for the last three days in a row — and the state remains the sixth worst in the nation when the average of new cases is weighed against population — the governor did not announce any additional mitigation steps.
After a surge in new COVID-19 cases, Reynolds initially ordered bars in six Iowa counties to close but later narrowed the scope to only Johnson — home to the University of Iowa — and Story — home to Iowa State University.
When the previous order expires at 11:59 p.m. Sunday, bars in the two counties will have been shuttered over five weeks. The reopening still keeps bars in Ames off limits this weekend for the Iowa State Cyclones football game.
When the bars do reopen, the order says they must ensure there is 6 feet of social distance between groups or individual patrons, and that all patrons must consume food or beverages while seated. Booths closer then 6 feet apart are acceptable, the order says, if there are barriers.
The new proclamation removes an earlier requirement that restaurants in the counties stop serving alcohol early.
Asked during a news conference Tuesday about the status of her emergency proclamation for Johnson and Story counties, Reynolds said that “we’re monitoring it carefully every day and we love the direction that the positivity rates are heading, it’s really good. They’re stabilizing.”
The reopening order mandating the mitigation steps expires Oct. 18.
The number of new COVID-19 cases among students and faculty at Iowa’s public universities has declined after weekly reports in the hundreds in August and early September — when Reynolds shuttered the bars to quash student partying there.
UI officials reported Friday 14 new student and employee cases since Wednesday, when it reported 10 new cases since Monday. Including Monday’s report, the UI added 35 new cases in a week, bringing its total since Aug. 18 to 2,053.
Friday’s addition of 11 new student cases did push the UI student-specific tally over 2,000, which remains among the highest in the country, although the universities of Wisconsin, Illinois and Ohio State each have hundreds more.
ISU, which hosts Oklahoma at Jack Trice Stadium at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, also saw fewer new student and employee cases last week.
Where for several weeks it reported new cases in the hundreds, ISU from Sept. 21 to 27 reported 68 new cases.
The University of Northern Iowa, which tracks positives identified through its Student Health Center and also self-reported data, added 10 cases Friday — although its total count remains unknown because UNI doesn’t parse positives identified from on- and off-campus testing.
UNI between Monday and Friday reported just seven new COVID-19 cases identified as its Student Health Center, the lowest since the week of Aug. 17. The governor released her bar-closure mandate in Black Hawk County more than two weeks ago.
UI officials have praised Reynolds’ actions in helping to keep the numbers low. In August, shortly after the emergency order, UI President Bruce Harreld thanked her “for her recent action regarding bars and gatherings larger than 10 people.”
“Without those actions I was very concerned about the rise in cases and the upcoming weekend,” he said at the time.
Eastern Iowa’s private colleges have kept their COVID-19 campus numbers relatively low. Coe College in Cedar Rapids is reporting two active student cases and two active employee cases. Mount Mercy University, also in Cedar Rapids, is reporting 16 positive students in isolation and one employee. And Cornell College in Mount Vernon is reporting just one positive student since Aug. 25 and two positive employees.
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Rod Boshart of The Gazette Des Moines Bureau contributed.
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