CORONAVIRUS

As bars reopen in 4 counties, Iowa governor says state now will seek out 'bad actors'

Businesses ignoring social distancing guidelines will see consequences, she says

Kristina Meyer, co-owner of the Red Lion Lounge in northeast Cedar Rapids, rearranges tables and chairs May 27 to meet c
Kristina Meyer, co-owner of the Red Lion Lounge in northeast Cedar Rapids, rearranges tables and chairs May 27 to meet coronavirus social distancing guidelines. The governor closed Linn County bars — and those in five other Iowa counties — Aug. 27 after a spike in COVID-19 cases. Bars in Linn County and three other counties were allowed to reopen Wednesday evening. The governor said the state now will be targeting businesses that ignore social distancing guidelines rather than closing all the bars in a county. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds signaled Wednesday her administration will take a more-targeted enforcement approach in dealing with “bad-actor” businesses that violate COVID-19 restrictions rather than taking countywide, shotgun action to shut down bars, taverns and other establishments.

“I’m trying to thread that needle,” Reynolds told reporters in defending her Aug. 27 decision to temporarily close bars or restrict the sale of alcohol in six counties where the number of COVID-19 cases had spiked.

“I’m trying to protect the health and safety of Iowans. I’m trying to protect the livelihoods of Iowans,” the governor noted.

She said the closures became necessary when stronger enforcement efforts weren’t achieving the hoped-for goal of slowing the COVID-19 spread.

On Tuesday, Reynolds issued a revised emergency order that keeps bars around the University of Iowa in Iowa City and Iowa State University in Ames closed until at least Sunday, but allowed those around Cedar Rapids, Cedar Falls and Des Moines to reopen at 5 p.m. Wednesday.

The governor’s new proclamation continuing the Public Health Disaster Emergency permitted bars, taverns, wineries, breweries, distilleries, nightclubs, country clubs or other social or fraternal clubs — including wedding reception venues — to reopen in Black Hawk, Dallas, Linn and Polk counties.

It also removed restrictions on hours that alcohol may be sold in restaurants in those four counties and clarified the social distancing requirements that still apply to all bars and restaurants in the state.

Consequences

Reynolds said she hopes the closures in the six counties got people’s attention regarding the seriousness of the pandemic and the need to follow safety guidelines.

“Now that we’ve seen the trends come down,” she said, “they know that we’re serious about enforcement and following the guidelines of the emergency health declaration.

“We’ll continue to monitor the counties. But in addition to that, we’ve streamlined the enforcement process,” she said.

Due process, she said, had been taking several weeks. It will now happen in a week’s time, she said.

“We can go in, we can continue to do education, we can give them a little warning, and if they don’t do what they’re supposed to do, then we will take the next step, which is to fine and to shut them done.

“My goal — since we can do that in a more timely manner — we need to punish the bad actors and not the ones that are doing it right,” she added. “I didn’t have the luxury of doing that with the spike in cases that we’ve seen.

“Since then, we’ve refined the process. We believe we can now do that moving forward.”

Reynolds said the enforcement approach is intended to strike a balance between compliance and consequences.

“We’ll work with the businesses so they know what the rules are, they know what the expectations are and then they can make a decision and, if they decide not to be a part of the solution, there are consequences,” the governor said.

Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

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