Iowa campus COVID-19 cases down during bar closure

Employees work behind the bar at Big Grove in Iowa City on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
Employees work behind the bar at Big Grove in Iowa City on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

More than five weeks after Gov. Kim Reynolds shuttered bars and halted late-night alcohol sales in several counties — including those home to University of Iowa and Iowa State University — daily reports of new COVID-19 cases on those campuses continue to drop.

UI on Monday reported just six new COVID-19 cases over the weekend — the lowest tally since UI began giving coronavirus case reports every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Those six new cases bring the UI student total to 2,011 and its employee tally to 48 since Aug. 18.

Iowa State, too, issued its lowest weekly report to date Monday, adding 53 new COVID-19 cases identified through on- and off-campus testing between Sept. 28 and Oct. 4, bringing its tally since Aug. 1 — including the 175 students identified through mandatory move-in screening —— to 1,754.

But the bar closure for Johnson and Story counties lifted Monday — making them the last of six counties initially shuttered by the Aug. 27 order to reopen.

In unshackling those establishments, Reynolds laid out mitigation mandates requiring bars to ensure 6 feet of social distance between groups or patrons and to serve guests food or beverages while seated. Barriers can be used for booths closer than 6 feet.

Reynolds also removed the earlier mandate that restaurants stop serving alcohol at 10 p.m.

While university administrators have praised the governor’s actions in helping to curb the soaring county and campus case numbers — with Johnson County over a string of days in August reporting new daily case counts above 200 — the business communities also have pushed to reopen.

Reynolds last week said the state would monitor positivity rates, which she praised as “stabilizing.” In recent days, new cases in a 24-hour period for Johnson, Story, and Black Hawk County — home to University of Northern Iowa — have ranged from fewer than 10 to more than 20.

As of 11 a.m. Tuesday, Johnson added 17 new cases; Story added 25 new cases; and Black Hawk added 16 new cases, according to The Gazette’s tracking of state-provided data.  

Despite the stabilization, those counties remain among Iowa’s top 10 for total cases.

And a true test of the ability to open bars safely in Johnson County, specifically, could come once Hawkeye football resumes later this month. The first game, potentially drawing patrons to bars to watch, comes Oct. 24 against Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.

The first Hawkeye home game arrives the following weekend, on Halloween, against Northwestern University.  

Iowa State, unlike UI, has been playing football and allowing limited fans into Jack Trice Stadium. Its first post-bar-closure home game comes weekend against Texas Tech. Comments: (319) 339-3158;

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