JOHNSTON — Gamblers, racers and entertainers got welcome news Tuesday from Gov. Kim Reynolds as she reopened more businesses and venues in light of efforts she said are keeping in check the spread of the novel coronavirus, which nonetheless continues to claim lives and disrupt normalcy.
The governor said that effective Monday, she is permitting casinos and gaming facilities to reopen, as well as amusement parks, outdoor performance venues, bowling alleys, pool halls and arcades — but at all half capacity and according to social distancing, hygiene and public health guidelines.
“Iowa is on the road to recovery,” said Reynolds, who announced last week that bars, wineries, breweries, distilleries, and social and fraternal clubs may reopen Thursday with the same public health measures as restaurants in place.
“For our state, recovery means striking a balance between getting life and business back to normal while continuing to manage the virus activity,” she said during a briefing at the state emergency operations center. “Our recovery is contingent on our ability to protect the life and livelihood of Iowans. We can’t prioritize one over the other; we must prioritize both to move forward.”
Tuesday’s proclamation — effective until 11:59 p.m. June 17 — permits reopening of skating rinks, skate parks and outdoor playgrounds along with speedways and raceways with spectators in attendance.
It allows social, community, leisure and non-school recreational and sporting gatherings and events of more than 10 people if public health measures are implemented — including limiting attendance to 50 percent of the venue capacity and maintaining 6 feet of distance between those attending.
The same gathering provisions were allowed for spiritual and religious gatherings, including funerals or weddings, but a church, synagogue or other host must implement reasonable measures to ensure social distancing, increased hygiene practices and other public health measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
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The governor said her action Tuesday also allows practices, games, and competitions for youth and adult baseball, softball and individual sports such as running, biking, swimming, tennis and golf to resume with appropriate public health measures in place.
Reynolds made an exception for a racetrack conducting pari-mutuel wagering to reopen, provided it does not permit any spectators to attend its events in person.
The governor said she plans to lift a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions, but told reporters the state is formulating an assistance plan with income guidelines to be announced soon.
Jerry Mackey, race announcer for the Independence Motor Speedway and the Benton County Speedway, said he expects the Independence facility will have a full slate of races June 6.
“We will be allowed to have fans in the grandstands up to 50 percent of the capacity, which will comfortably allow us to have in the 1,200 to 1,400 range,” he said. “We’re very much looking forward to that and we are excited to get the fans back to the races.”
Mackey said guidelines for conducting races with fans in attendance were being formulated, since the governor just announced the changes Tuesday. But he did not anticipate it would be difficult to implement the rules given the facility has a large grandstand area.
In Cedar Rapids, Hawkeye Downs Speedway is not holding races this Friday, but is assessing the remainder of its season. The Benton County Speedway has not announced its plans for Sunday’s races in Vinton.
Diamond Jo Casino in Dubuque said in a statement it will reopen Monday, but with limitations and ramped up cleaning.
“As we return to business in Iowa, our highest priority will be protecting the health and safety of every person who comes through our doors,” said Keith W. Henson, senior vice president of operations for Boyd Gaming, in a statement.
He said the casino will require face coverings and temperature checks for all employees and social distancing requirements and capacity restrictions, including casino floors and restaurants. Employees will increase sanitation of “high touch” surfaces including door handles, gaming machines, table games, handrails and elevator buttons.
An executive with Riverside Casino & Golf Resort, the closest state licensed casino to the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City metro area, could not be reached Tuesday afternoon for comment.
Reynolds said indoor smoking would continue to be permitted in casino gaming floor areas.
The governor made the announcement on a day that Iowa’s death count from the coronavirus stood at 466 — with two deaths in Dallas County and one each in Black Hawk, Louisa, Mahaska, Muscatine, Plymouth and Pottawattamie counties accounting for the eight deaths reported in a 24-hour period ending at 11 a.m. However, that death toll grew to 476 in the next three hours under the state’s “real-time” data updates.
The 104 new positive cases added to Iowa’s total of 17,659 confirmed COVID-19 cases. The daily tally was the lowest since April 14, but Reynolds’ spokesman Pat Garrett said the lower count could be due to both reduced holiday weekend testing and a general downward drift in Iowa’s coronavirus numbers.
According to state health agency data, 13.1 percent of the total 134,984 Iowans who have been tested were positive, while 117,020 have tested negative. Of those who have tested positive, 9,410 (or 53 percent) have recovered from the virus.
As of Tuesday morning, 377 Iowans were hospitalized with COVID-19 — 118 in intensive care and 66 requiring ventilators to help breathe.
While the state continues to report outbreaks at 37 long-term care facilities in Iowa, the death toll from those outbreaks rose slightly to 245.
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Health officials also said 69 cases had been reported at Perdue Farms’ pork-processing plant in Sioux Center and 20 positive cases in that company’s Sioux City facility.
“We are all continuing to adjust to what life with COVID-19 will be like as we continue to move through this pandemic,” said Sarah Reisetter, deputy director of the state Department of Public Health. “We know this is a difficult time and Iowans need to continue to be responsible in taking care of their own health as well as protecting the health of our communities.”
Reynolds, an Osceola Republican, said Iowa’s targeted testing strategy, which grew from 7,884 in March to 84,023 so far this month, has enabled officials to identify and respond to hot-spot areas while gradually opening up more of the state.
“In communities across the state there are signs that life is starting to get back to normal,” she said. “The most welcome one of all is the “we’re open” sign hanging in the windows of local businesses,” she said.
Public health criteria and metrics continue to show downward trends that “tells us we can continue to open up,” the governor said. But she noted she would consider possible responses should those trends signal an uptick or surge in coronavirus activity.
In her proclamation, Reynolds said she “strongly encourages all vulnerable Iowans, including those with preexisting medical conditions and those older than 65, in all counties of the state to continue to limit their activities outside of their home, including their visits to businesses and other establishments and their participation in gatherings of any size and any purpose.”
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Justin Webster of The Gazette contributed to this report.
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