By Erin Murphy, Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau
JOHNSTON — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Wednesday defended her administration’s decisions to implement only some of the mitigation strategies recommended in a White House report on the new coronavirus pandemic while eschewing others like a mask mandate and more expansive bar closures.
The latest report from the White House task force on the pandemic showed Iowa’s new coronavirus cases per 100,000 people is triple the nation’s average. Iowa’s seven-day average coronavirus rate was ranked as the worst in the nation until it fell Wednesday to be second behind South Dakota in a database maintained by the Washington Post.
The task force strongly recommended a statewide mandate requiring Iowans to wear face masks in public, and that bars be closed and restaurant capacity limited in 61 counties it classified as being in the “red” and “yellow” risk zones.
Reynolds has consistently urged Iowans to wear masks in public, but also has consistently resisted issuing a mask mandate, saying it would not be enforceable.
A week ago, she ordered bars in six counties, primarily those with college campuses where the virus is spreading rapidly among young people, to close until at least Sept. 20.
“I have done a lot” of the task force recommendations, Reynolds said during a news conference at the Iowa PBS studios. She noted ordering the bar closures and protections for long-term care facilities.
“I still believe it’s up to the governors in the various states to make those decisions. … Sometimes they don’t have the entire picture of the things that we’re doing,” Reynolds said of federal officials.
While Reynolds faced questions about whether her pandemic mitigation steps have gone far enough, she also responded to a lawsuit that suggests her efforts have gone too far.
A group of bars from the Des Moines metro area has filed a lawsuit in a bid to overturn her order to close the bars in Black Hawk, Dallas, Johnson, Linn, Polk and Story counties.
“We had restrictions. They didn’t abide by that. We put enforcement behind it. We gave them a warning. We did a fine. We said if it happens again, you’re going to lose your license,” Reynolds said. “I don’t like doing that. I’m trying to balance the health and safety of Iowans with the livelihoods of these small businesses. …
“I don’t take these decisions lightly. But because of the numbers we were seeing and based on the recommendations that were made, it was the right thing to do.”
After climbing for nine days in a row, Iowa’s rolling seven-day average of new daily cases dropped slightly Wednesday to 1,160 from 1,177.
Its positivity rate — the percentage of virus tests that come back positive — also dropped, to 13.08 percent from 19.92 percent a day earlier.
Iowa added 742 new virus cases in the 24-hour period ending at 11 a.m. Wednesday, for a total of 66,139 cases so far.
The state also reported four more COVID-19 deaths in the period, for a total of 1,125 over the last six months. Black Hawk, Polk, Wapello and Winneshiek counties each reported one death.
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Current hospitalizations because of the virus inched down in the 24-hour period to 310 from 311. The number of patients in intensive care declined to 87 from 88, and the number of those using ventilators dropped to 39 from 43.
Katie Brumbeloe of The Gazette contributed to this report.